Sustainable Energy Bill

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Mr. Stunell: I know that, in due course, the hon. Member for Bury, North will want to speak to new clause 7. However, I wish to say a few words about the new clauses to which the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East has spoken. I am also a vice-president of the LGA. It seems that it lets anyone in these days. I agree that we have not received any communication from it. I suggest that, in all probability, its action was born out of sheer frustration at the way in which it saw the Bill being taken off course by the negotiations that the hon. Gentleman had with the Government. However, as it turned out, those negotiations were unsuccessful.

Brian White: I do not want to undermine the hon. Gentleman's faith in the LGA, but it was the other way round. The LGA was part of the problem, not the solution.

Mr. Stunell: In which case, the LGA needs a few more vice-presidents like the hon. Gentleman.

The new clause is concerned with domestic energy efficiency. By every reasonably objective standard, the biggest gap in energy efficiency in this country is in the domestic sector, which is very difficult to get to with policy. The incentives to save energy in the domestic sector have reduced recently, because prices for the consumer have fallen. There are great difficulties in finding incentives to encourage the private sector supplier, generator or distributor to put any effort into promoting efficiency in the domestic sector because, in so far as they are successful, they will sell less of their product.

The Government need a strong regulatory and legislative framework for the domestic sector above all other types of activity. They also need to be proactive in changing the culture and setting a pattern of behaviour, not only for the individual consumers but for local authorities and all those agencies that may be brought to bear on the topic. The Government of course have some measures—I am sure that the Minister will remind me of changes to building regulations, for example—that will, over the course of about 150 years, make a real difference. But we must reach some targets much sooner than that, and that means that there should be a requirement in clause 2 to set about the project robustly.

As I understand the matter, we are in an extraordinary situation, in that the original Bill—

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supported by the promoter and, I strongly suspect, the whole Committee except the Minister—in large part does what I have described. New clause 7 does a large part of that too and also has the benefit of being promoted by both the promoters and, at one stage, the Government. However, we are to be invited to reject new clause 7 and to vote for a watered-down version that will go a long way short of achieving the aims set out in the original Bill.

There are a limited number of ways in which one can express one's disappointment and regret at what has happened. However, I ask the Minister to reflect not on the partisan, party political points being made but on the fact that the Government's own targets, expressed wishes and aspirations, as set out in the White Paper, will become harder to achieve if the Bill is watered down and weakened. The Government are undermining their own policy objectives and making it more difficult for the country to achieve its Kyoto targets and outcomes.

On time and development, the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East tried to persuade us to agree to the changes on the bases that half a loaf is better than none, and that he will carry on campaigning. I am delighted that he is going to do that, because it means that next year we shall get yet another private Member's Bill—last year, it was from the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown, this year is from the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East, next year, who knows who it will be? This time next year, we shall be in exactly the same place with the Minister of the day—I hope that the current Minister is still in place then, although Ministers rotate rapidly—no doubt saying, ''The intentions are good and the aspirations are fine, but it would not be appropriate to have targets, trust us.'' Meanwhile, another year will have ticked past with nothing done and the problem of domestic energy efficiency left on the back burner.

The promoter's heart is in the right place, but I am afraid that he has been somewhat seduced by his contact with the Government. I understand that there has been a stormy relationship between the Minister and him, but we have to remember that it is often the case that people in abusive relationships return time after time. However, the sense of frustration and disappointment as yet another year goes past and yet another private Member's Bill comes up and gets de-gutted by yet another Minister with responsibility for energy is beginning to get us down. I hope very much that the promoter of the Bill and the Minister will take to heart some of the deeply felt opinions that have been expressed that if anything is to be achieved, they will have to be a bit braver than they have been this morning.

9.30 am

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): I wish to speak to new clause 7. I share some of the frustration and disappointment that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) has expressed. The original clause 2 was excellent in its own right. It is specific and it sets out where we must improve domestic energy efficiency. It was a matter of deep disappointment—I speak on behalf of most members of the Committee—

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that we discovered that the Government were not willing to support that clause.

It is crucial to reiterate the overriding importance of improvements to domestic energy efficiency in a sustainable energy policy. Where I would differ slightly from the disappointment of the hon. Gentleman is that the position has changed since last year and the equivalent private Member's Bill, because we now have the energy White Paper, which sets a series of targets for renewables and CHP, and a series of figures for energy efficiency. The difficulty is that the White Paper, which is excellent in many respects, has only estimates of the savings that could be achieved through domestic energy efficiency, without a firm commitment to achieving them or even to setting a target for achieving them.

At the first sitting of the Committee, the then Minister explained in a reasonable way the Government's reluctance to commit themselves to targets that were too specific. That was based on two concerns. One was that the probability, or the possibility, of not achieving the target would itself be embarrassing. We know that there have been several recent examples of that in different areas of policy. I do not think that the embarrassment of not achieving the target is as great as the Government feel that it is. Perhaps Ministers are more sensitive to that. If there was a record of achievement that almost met the target and enabled people to see that things were moving in the right direction, that would probably be quite acceptable to the majority of hon. Members and the general public.

Mr. Robathan: The hon. Gentleman has covered the crux of the matter, which is that Governments do not like targets, when every hon. Member in the Room would support working towards them. If we did not achieve targets, but saw the Government striving their utmost to reach them, the Opposition might all be able to weigh in for the good of the country and the planet. That would be better than the Government saying that it is too difficult to have a target. We all want to see the targets achieved, so what is the problem with having them in the Bill?

Mr. Chaytor: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I agree with him entirely. What hon. Members and the general public are looking for is direction of travel and significant progress in that direction. Hitting the target at exactly the right time is in reality slightly less significant. Nevertheless, a wider debate must take place throughout the Government about the role and function of targets, and the consequences of not achieving them.

Things have moved on in domestic energy efficiency since last year's private Member's Bill. We now have the White Paper. It does not under-estimate the challenge that faces us in improving our domestic energy efficiency. One of the most telling statistics in the chapter on the subject in the White Paper was the table that shows that, of all the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, the United Kingdom is 14th in energy intensity. We

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are the 14th least effective nation in making the most of our energy supplies.

If we are to achieve the stringent targets for CO2 savings that are included in the White Paper, which specifically states that

    ''savings of this magnitude would need roughly a doubling of the rate of energy efficiency improvement seen in the past thirty years'',

we must take ambitious steps. I therefore tabled new clause 7, which ties the Government into the CO2 savings that are referred to in the White Paper, while accepting that they are reluctant to adopt a particular target for energy efficiency improvements per se.

I shall reiterate one point, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove. I understand that last week, new clause 7 was agreed between the promoter of the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East, and the then Minister and his officials. It seems to me that if the new clause was good enough last week, it should be good enough this week. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response to that.

The value of new clause 7 is that it clarifies some of the weaknesses in the White Paper, and ties the Government not to a specific energy efficiency target but to introducing energy efficiency measures that would achieve the necessary CO2 reductions. It reiterates remarks that have been made by several Ministers in recent weeks about the importance of the savings proposed in the White Paper. I understand that on 18 March, the then Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), stated in response to a parliamentary question that

    ''a strategy for achieving these savings is set out in the Energy White Paper.''—[Official Report, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 639W.]

On 2 April, the former Minister for Energy and Construction, my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North, at a gathering of representatives of the energy efficiency industry, who were concerned at the signals sent to their members by the lack of targets said:

    ''It is Government policy to achieve those objectives''—

the energy objectives—

    ''so your members should take paras 3.5 and 3.6 as read and invest accordingly.''

I also understand that the head of the Government's sustainable energy network reiterated at the Energy Efficiency Partnership for Homes conference on 20 May that

    ''the White Paper explains the way to deliver CO2 savings.''

Thus, there have been several statements by Ministers and Government officials that reiterate the importance of the savings referred to in the White Paper, even though they are not explicitly listed as targets.

I should also like to pick up on the Minister's indication at the conference of representatives of businesses working in the energy efficiency field that it is critical to send the right signals for business confidence. The Government alone cannot deliver those objectives—they are dependent on those who work in that field. They depend on the investment made by manufacturers, whether they be

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manufacturers of more efficient appliances, of boilers, of control systems for central heating, of ventilation or air conditioning, or of insulation materials. If the Government send a confused signal to those manufacturers, they will be reluctant to invest and there will not be a cat in hell's chance of achieving the necessary CO2 reductions.

 
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