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Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and I apologise for not being in the Chamber for the beginning of his remarks.

Does not the EU directive require certification of energy efficiency to be given only when the house is sold and not when the property is marketed? Is not that key to the Minister's proposals for home condition reports?

Keith Hill: We will have an opportunity to discuss those matters and, in due course, I want to go into a little more detail about the inter-relationship of the energy and home condition reports. The EU directive will require an energy report at every point of sale and that will be part and parcel of the home information pack.

Although the Opposition favour compulsory energy efficiency reports—at least, the Liberal Democrats favour them—they do not support the very means whereby they will be delivered cost-effectively: compulsory home condition reports as part of a compulsory home information pack. Those reports will contain information about the energy efficiency of homes when they are marketed. Compulsory home information packs, with data about the energy efficiency of a property and what a new owner can do to improve it, will capture that moment. Voluntary packs risk frittering that opportunity. We will return to the issue when we debate the next group of amendments.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend about the mechanisms to improve energy efficiency, but what I cannot quite understand is why he thinks that the 20 per
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cent. target would be inflexible. If we overshot it and did better, that would be fine, but is not it good to have the target, to fix the Government's mind and to ensure that we reach the minimum necessary to achieve our overall goals? After all, let us not forget that our overall goal is a 60 per cent. reduction in CO 2 emissions by 2050.

Keith Hill: But we are already almost at that 20 per cent. point—achieved by mechanisms that may not have been anticipated even two years ago. When we are moving towards the target, with which my hon. Friend is properly concerned, it seems unnecessary to add this provision to the Bill and set a numerical target, which may be overshot or outdated but none the less adds a degree of inflexibility. Indeed, it might even encourage a degree of complacency. Let us have neither suspicion of the Government's intentions nor encouragement to complacency. Let us not make an unnecessary amendment to the Bill.

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): It has been a fair time since we debated these issues in Committee, and one could have predicted that they would come back at this point. The upper House has done us a favour by bringing the matter back to our attention.

The amendment is not unreasonable. It is not unreasonable that

The Government included that commitment in their manifesto, so it could not have seemed too inflexible then. They said that they would decrease CO 2 emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010 based on 1990 levels. From 1990 to 1997, carbon emissions decreased by 13.1 million tonnes. Since the Government were elected in 1997, such emissions remained almost static, but in three of the past four years they have increased.

In August, the Environmental Audit Committee reported that the Government's latest forecasts indicated that by 2010 carbon emissions would be 8 million cubic tonnes more than the target—a 25 per cent. shortfall. That target is the Government's target; they have assured the public no fewer than 15 times that it would be the energy efficiency aim set under the Sustainable Energy Act 2003. Some members of the Government have promoted that target. On 17 August, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry wrote to Mr. J. Card of Hereford:

The Government's sustainable energy policy network website lists as an objective delivery by 2010 of

that is, 1.5 million cubic tonnes—

That equals 5 million cubic tonnes, or the 20 per cent. specified in the amendment. The site also states that it is a Government "commitment" to deliver

which is exactly what the amendment says.
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The DEFRA website lists the target under the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 as a 30 per cent. improvement in 10 to 15 years, using the baseline of 1   April 1996. Taking that as its lowest—30 per cent. over 15 years, based on 1996 levels—it is virtually the same as 20 per cent. over 10 years, as in the Lords amendment. Indeed, the Energy Saving Trust—the Government's own adviser—does not know why the target has been changed to 16 per cent. It has been completely surprised by the sudden decrease and has said so publicly, as it has worked on the policies to achieve the higher figure of 20 per cent. In evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee on 19 May, it said:


in respect of the reduction

As support for the 20 per cent. target will come from Opposition and Government Members, the real issue is why the Government have decided to change the target. After all, the Lords amendment uses the phrase "reasonable steps". I have served on enough Committees to know that "reasonable" is not an unreasonable word to use in legislation. The target does not necessarily have to be achieved, but the Government must take reasonable steps to achieve it. The Lords amendment is not unreasonable. It would set this country's policies in the context of international relations at a responsible level, and it should be supported.

I note that early-day motion 96, on the residential energy efficiency aim pursuant to the Sustainable Energy Act 2003, has accumulated more than 340 signatures. Given that Ministers would not sign an early-day motion, two thirds of all the Back Benchers in Parliament must have signed it. I would not suggest that Members of Parliament would sign any early-day motion lightly on such an important matter that has an impact on the future and sensible energy policies. That shows the breadth of support for the 20 per cent. target. The Lords have given us an opportunity to think again, and I hope that the House will adopt a sensible approach and vote for the 20 per cent. target.

Brian White: The Lords amendment is very important, and I agree with the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) that their lordships have done us a good service by introducing it. Reference has been made already to the Sustainable Energy Act 2003, which I piloted through the House a couple of years ago, and early-day motion 96, so I want to concentrate on what the Government said in opposing the amendment in the Lords last week, which the Minister has just repeated.

Last week, Lord Rooker said that 4.2 megatonnes is double the historic 1990s level. That is welcome, and we should not lose sight of the fact that there has been a major change. In the energy White Paper, the Government said why the target was important, and they set the aspiration at a 20 per cent. reduction. The problem is that officials began to realise that an historic step change would be required and that a number of issues need to be addressed.

Lord Rooker argued for flexibility and said that the 2003 Act provides a mechanism to increase the level—it certainly does—but that is not a reason why the Lords
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amendment, which would set a floor, should not be carried. The Lords amendment would set in statute a floor beneath which Government aspirations should not fall. If the Government want to exceed that baseline, they can use the mechanism in the Act to go way above it.

The Minister rightly referred to the action plan, which contains many good points; but, again, that does not negate the need for the Lords amendment. The Government have also argued that we are doing well in the industrial and business sector, so we should be allowed to slip in another sector, but this is not a zero-sum game. Our aspiration should be to exceed the level in every sector.

Lord Rooker also said that the Government have a good tale to tell. The Government are not reneging on their commitments, despite what the Opposition have said, but they are scoring a classic own goal. We have a good tale to tell, but because we are not living up to what we said in the White Paper and we are arguing about 4.2 megatonnes as against 5 megatonnes, we are scoring an own goal for no good reason.

6.15 pm

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