|Sustainable Energy Bill
Sue Doughty: I am interested in the Minister's interpretation of what I said. Like colleagues on the other Opposition Benches, I was drawing attention to the Government's own inconsistency in the treatment of targets. One could say that they have over-egged it somewhat with respect to hospitals and schools, and under-egged it with respect to energy efficiency.
Mr. Timms: I do not agree with the hon. Lady. We have been consistent. It was never the case that the Government scattered targets all over the place. It was always the case that the targets that have been set have been very carefully chosen and weighed. We have made a commitment to set clear, published targets. That is new; it has not been done before. The Government have been able to deploy a powerful mechanism that has allowed great progress to be made
Column Number: 60in a range of areas. It is essential that the chosen targets are few and carefully selected, so that the apparatus of the Government can be behind the way in which to achieve them. More targets would undermine the prospect of progress that the much more careful approach would allow us.
Mr. Robathan: As ever, I am grateful to the Minister, although his approach to the matter is tremendously inconsistent. It has been government by target; targets are coming out of his ears. The Government set their own targets in their 1997 and 2001 manifestos. The targets for renewable energy and for CHP were originally in the Bill. However, he and his Government have been determined to remove them. They are inconsistent because, having set the targets, they must be willing to live up to them.
Mr. Timms: The hon. Gentleman is making an error by saying that legislation is the place in which targets should be enshrined. In an earlier debate, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said that passing a law with targets was making progress. The hon. Member for Guildford said that she came to Parliament to tie people down. The changes that all of us believe need to be made in the economy, the vision that is set out in the energy White Paper and the target to reduce carbon emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050 require a massive transformation throughout our economy. They require a large number of players in the private and public sectors to be imaginative and creative and to work in the same direction to achieve that goal. That is a subtle, long-term process. It is difficult.
The appearance in legislation of a particular number could easily be irrelevant to the process. We are looking for a much bigger process of transformation. The Bill, as now proposed, represents an important step in the right direction. I caution, in particular, the hon. Members for Bexhill and Battle and for Guildford against believing that, if only they could put a particular number into a Bill, it would solve the problem. We are facing a bigger challenge than that.
Gregory Barker: I agree that putting targets into a Bill is not enough. The Minister is missing the crucial point about the Government. After they were elected in 1997, they introduced a series of targets across a wide range of policies. In so doing, they set a new precedent. They set targets in a way in which no previous Government had ever done before. They created them as a new lever and focus for policy direction. Having set that precedent in their first term, the Government changed the political language at Westminster. In their second term, they are now suddenly wishing to revert to the status quo ante. The reason for that is their singular failure to achieve so many of the targets that they set themselves in their first term. The Government are making a rod for their own back. They set the precedent for putting down targets; now, rowing back from those targets, it is unconvincing to say that the reason for so doing is anything other than a failure of policy on their part.
Mr. Timms: I agree with the first part of what the hon. Gentleman said, which is that the Government
Column Number: 61have used targets in a way that is unprecedented and changed the nature of policy making. That is true. The majority of people, not just my hon. Friends, but others as well—agree that that has been an effective step. It has been a positive and welcome change in the transparency of the policy making process. However, he is wrong to say that we rowed back from that. In the area about which we are talking today, several targets have been published. The hon. Member for Blaby referred to some that have been in Labour party manifestos and we stand by them.
Today we are resisting the view that, if only we could make many more targets, the world would be a better place. That is not right and it has never been the Government's approach. It was not the approach taken in 1997. We have always been careful and selective about the targets that are adopted, and careful to ensure that the resources of Government are behind delivering those targets. That was the approach in 1997. That is the approach today and that is the approach for which I am arguing in this debate.
On energy efficiency, I have said several times that we are committed to making progress and delivering our commitment. A properly developed, costed programme will deliver the substantial contribution that we want energy efficiency to make. We will be publishing a detailed strategy on energy efficiency within a year of the date of publication of the White Paper.
I hope that I have given some reassurance to the Committee. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East has made an important contribution in bringing forward the Bill. The many animated discussions in which he has taken part have led to the amendments and the new clauses that we are debating today. The Bill will represent a significant and worthwhile step and I hope that the Committee will support him.
Mr. Chaytor: We have had a wide-ranging and detailed debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East has been unjustifiably accused of being a Government quisling, who was too easily seduced. Whether he was tied down before he was seduced was not absolutely clear. The Opposition have accused the Government of having their fig leaf ripped from them. Nevertheless, in spite of the rhetorical excesses of one or two members of the Committee, we have tackled the substantive issue.
I listened carefully to the Minister and was pleased to be reassured by his expansion of the significance of new clauses 8 and 9. He put a persuasive case that individual targets are best not placed in the Bill and that it is the creation of the correct institutional framework and the means to deliver policies and targets that must be its focus. I am not entirely reassured over what has happened to make new clause 7 acceptable last week, but not this week, but we will let that pass.
Mr. Robathan: I agree with the hon. Member for Bury, North about how new clause 7 has become acceptable or unacceptable. I am not sure which it is at the moment. When he is talking about targets, is he aware that the White Paper refers to the achievement
Column Number: 62of carbon savings not as an aim or a policy, but as no more than a possibility or an aspiration?
Mr. Chaytor: I am entirely aware of that and I think that that is a weakness of the White Paper. We have had a considerable and interesting discussion about fuel poverty, but ambition poverty is pertinent to some of the arguments that have been advanced.
The Government have been overcautious in the details of the White Paper. The Minister will have taken on board the Committee's strong belief in the need for more stringent targets, although it completely accepts the argument that it is easy to set a target and far more difficult to create the institutional means by which that target can be achieved. Nevertheless, the Committee strongly believes that we need to be more ambitious about meeting our target for reducing CO2 emissions, and about increasing the rate of domestic energy efficiency, which will contribute to meeting that target. In support of that, I quote the new chief executive of the Energy Saving Trust, Mr. Philip Sellwood, who made it clear that the trust's view was that targets are a live issue. He said:
The argument that it is not appropriate to include targets in primary legislation is separate from whether the White Paper's rather vague statements need to be converted into targets. However, I was reassured to hear the Minister reiterate that the taskforce charged with developing the energy efficiency programme will report according to its original target of 12 months from the date of publication of the White Paper, which should be February 2004. We look forward with great interest to the programme that will be published then.
I hope that the Minister has taken on board the strength of the Committee's view and the advice from organisations and individuals outside Parliament, especially people charged with advising Government—not least the Energy Saving Trust—and that he provides reassurance about the way in which new clauses 8, 9 and 10 will operate. So long as he does so, I will not press new clause 7.
Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 6.
Division No. 2]
Clause 2 disagreed to.
Column Number: 63
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