Sustainable Energy Bill

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Gregory Barker: Like Committee members from all parties, I share a great disappointment at the climbdown in the face of such Government obstinacy and such a failure to incorporate meaningful, ambitious targets that would have signalled a step change in Government energy policy. There is only one question that we have to ask to get to the heart of such Government intransigence. Why do they not want the targets set in the Bill? That is simple. Either the Government do not think that they can meet those targets, or they are reluctant to introduce them, because they fear there is a good chance that they will not meet them. They are not prepared to put their shoulder to the wheel to ensure that they will be met. They are not prepared to be sufficiently ambitious in policy terms and to match those ambitions with real resources.

This all comes down to how ambitious the Government are in the field of sustainable energy—how committed they are to the sustainable energy agenda and the issue that Committee members are grappling with. I am sure that the Minister wants to make progress and that he shares the broad aims of the Bill. However, that is not what we are here to do. We are here—at least, I thought we were—to tie the Government down to making real progress in a challenging area. Progress will not be made simply by wishing for it, or by warm intentions; it will be made only if there is a real, meaningful change in how the Government make energy policy across Departments.

I am sure that it will be difficult to meet challenging targets. In ensuring that they are met the apparatus of government will be required to apply itself and Ministers will be required to expend political capital. However, surely that is what Ministers are here for, and that is why Governments stand for election. We enter politics to effect change. I am sorry that the Bill will now water down to wishy-washy commitments the very things that nearly all Committee members believe in strongly. At the end of the day we will not have a real agenda for change, or an ambitious programme mapping out an exciting but demanding future. Instead, there will be more warm words that could mean nothing.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 6.

Division No. 1]

AYES
Barker, Gregory Doughty, Sue
Robathan, Mr. Andrew Stunell, Mr. Andrew

NOES
Chaytor, Mr. David Drew, Mr. David Edwards, Mr. Huw
Iddon, Dr. Brian Timms, Mr. Stephen White, Brian

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Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 1 disagreed to.

New clause 1

Annual reports on progress towards

sustainable energy aims

    '(1) The Secretary of State must in each calendar year, beginning with 2004, publish a report (''a sustainable energy report'') on the progress made in the reporting period towards—

    (a) cutting the United Kingdom's carbon emissions;

    (b) maintaining the reliability of the United Kingdom's energy supplies;

    (c) promoting competitive energy markets in the United Kingdom; and

    (d) reducing the number of people living in fuel poverty in the United Kingdom.

    (2) ''The reporting period'', for the purposes of subsection (1), means the year ending with 23 February in the calendar year in question.

    (3) Accordingly, the report must be published in that calendar year within the period beginning with 24 February and ending with 31 December (''the publication period'').

    (4) A sustainable energy report may either be published as a single report or published in a number of parts during the publication period, and any such report or part may be contained in a document containing other material.

    (5) A sustainable energy report must be based on such information as is available to the Secretary of State when the report is completed (except that if it is published in parts, each of those parts must be based on such information as is so available when that part is completed).

    (6) For the purposes of this section a person is to be regarded as living in fuel poverty if he is a member of a household living on a lower income in a home which cannot be kept warm at a reasonable cost.'.—[Mr. Timms.]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

Clause 2

Domestic energy efficiency

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 7—Domestic energy efficiency—

    '(1) The Secretary of State shall take reasonable steps to achieve the carbon saving aims in relation to the energy efficiency of residential accommodation specified in any policy document for the time being designated by him.

    (2) The Secretary of State shall within two months of the coming into force of this Act designate the following documents as policy documents, namely

    (a) The Energy White Paper presented to Parliament in February 2003 Cmd 5761; and

    (b) The Climate Change The UK Programme presented to Parliament in November 2000 Cmd 4913.

    (3) The Secretary of State may, at any time,

    (a) withdraw the designation of any document under this section provided that he shall not do so if this withdrawal would result in there being no designated document under this section

    (b) designate such other documents as he sees fit as policy documents.

    (4) The steps to be taken by the Secretary of State pursuant to subsection (1) above may include steps relating to the heating,

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    cooling, ventilation, lighting and insulation of residential accommodation.

    (5) In deciding what steps to take and the extent to which to take those steps in order to achieve any carbon savings pursuant to subsection 1 above the Secretary of State may make an assessment of the steps being taken or reasonably expected to be taken in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and any reasonable assessment of the carbon saving that may be expected to result from those steps taken or reasonably expected to be taken.'.

New clause 8—Energy efficiency of residential accommodation: Secretary of State.

New clause 9—Energy efficiency of residential accommodation: National Assembly for Wales.

New clause 10—Energy efficiency of residential accommodation: energy conservation authorities.

Clause 6 stand part.

9.15 am

Brian White: New clauses 8 and 9 are identical except that one relates to the role of the Secretary of State in England and the other to the National Assembly for Wales. New clause 10 finds a way of dealing with the second part of clause 2 and with the original clause 6. It therefore replaces both clauses. New clauses 8 and 9 replace the Second Reading clause 2(1) that relates to energy efficiency.

My advisers spent hours negotiating with officials on the clauses and one said that the most difficult issue was the drafting of the duty in clause 2. As we have said, the phrase ''take reasonable steps'' involves a weak requirement. I have been unable to find a form of words that might be more acceptable to the Government but that retains the sense of there being a requirement to take action. Twice, we thought we had agreed on a more robust version and I tabled new clauses 5 and 6, which have now been withdrawn. We agreed, at one point, about a new clause that was almost identical to new clause 7. It was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) and others.

Sadly, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs found a way not to proceed on those lines, so we are left with the new clauses. I can see that the proposal is weaker, but it still takes us forward—just—which is why I tabled the new clauses. They require the Secretary of State and the Assembly to specify energy efficiency aims for England and Wales and there is a duty on the Secretary of State and the Welsh Assembly to take reasonable steps to achieve those aims.

In the light of the previous debate, the Committee may say that the aim is weak, feeble and virtually meaningless and that is theoretically possible for two reasons. I therefore ask the Minister to consider two points. First, if he were to take the sense of the previous debate, he would know that, if he sets weak and meaningless targets, the White Paper's credibility will be undermined. Secondly, the Government have made statements over the years about the desirability of sustainable energy. Therefore, they have a commitment that they wish to achieve. For those reasons I am optimistic that the aims that the new

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clauses set will not be weak or meaningless. However, I look to the Minister to confirm that the Government are serious about taking energy efficiency measures forward.

We need the carbon savings from energy efficiency that are set out in the White Paper; without them our long-term carbon savings objectives cannot be met. The White Paper states that such savings are the cheapest and easiest way to achieve some of the carbon reductions that are required. I therefore call on the Government to confirm the aspirations in chapter 3 of the White Paper. I assure all members of the Committee that I shall continue to be at the forefront of the campaign to ensure that energy efficiency aims will enable us to deliver on CO2 targets, especially those urged by the performance and innovation unit's report. New clauses 8 and 9 will be a step forward. They do not have the same stride as the original clause, but they are not the end of the campaign. As the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said, they are what is needed if we are to be serious about sustainable energy.

New clause 10 is based on a clause in the Home Energy Conservation Bill proposed by the then Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), last year. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) for his efforts last year and to those members of the Committee that considered the Bill. Unfortunately, the Bill failed to become law, but much work was undertaken. The wording of new clause 10 is slightly different from that used in last year's Bill, but the strategy is identical.

Under the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, the previous Government, like this Government, set guidance targets for local authorities for more than 30 per cent. improvement in domestic energy by 2010, based on 1995 levels. Many local authorities have responded extremely well to those targets and I pay tribute to them and to their officers. More than 100 local authorities have supported the Bill. However, some have reported domestic energy efficiency improvements of less than 5 per cent. in eight years. That is not only unsatisfactory; it is appalling and such practices cannot continue.

One matter that worried me was that the Local Government Association tried to undermine its councils by telling the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister that it objected to the proposals. Despite the fact that I am a vice-president of the LGA, no one from the LGA had the courtesy to tell me what action had been taken, even though it was instructed to do so by its executive committee. No one has been to see me yet. If we are to help local government, local councils need better services than some LGA officers are providing at present. As someone who spent days trying to set up the LGA five years ago, it pains me to say that.

New clause 10 provides a lever to rectify the situation. It would enable the Secretary of State in England and National Assembly of Wales to set new and binding targets for specific local authorities, after consulting the LGA and the Welsh Local Government Association. It is intended that the measure will act as

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a spur to give the authorities renewed public targets. Many authorities will respond positively, adopt the targets and strive to achieve them. The clause would have a beneficial effect.

Residents and local organisations will be able to lobby their local council to adopt measures to meet the published targets and councils should have no objection to that lobbying. In fact, many will welcome it. In addition, when taking steps to meet the targets, councils will have to take measures that will achieve the fuel poverty targets set under the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000. That is important because we all want to see an end to fuel poverty. Co-ordinated action between local and central Government is an essential factor in climate change, and a key step forward.

 
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