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Alan Simpson: We need to put the debate in the context of the best aspects of the Government's record. For the first time in history, the Labour Government gave a statutory undertaking to eradicate fuel poverty in this country by 2016. The Government and the Labour party should rightly be proud of that awesome commitment. Equally, the Prime Minister made it clear to the House that meeting Britain's Kyoto targets was a statutory and binding obligation. He has also said that addressing the challenge of climate change will be the centrepiece of the next Labour Government, so the amendment should be at the heart of what Labour has tried to stand for: taking people out of fuel poverty while meeting our broader global obligations to tackle climate change. It is thus bizarre and somewhat absurd that the Government refuse to endorse the targets in the amendment that successive Labour Ministers have affirmed as Government policy. We are having an "Alice Through the Looking Glass" debate that has been constructed by officials in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, rather than Labour Ministers or the Labour party.

The reduction of the carbon target from 5 megatonnes to 4.2 megatonnes has been justified on the ground that it was done on the basis of the best available
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evidence at the time. People have asked the nature of that evidence and where it came from, but it has not been adequately justified. Our advisers, the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, said that it was at a loss to understand why the Government wanted to introduce a lower target. I think that in this Bill, as in those that have preceded it, civil servants have been faced with the prospect of targets, but rather than asking how they can meet them, they have asked how they can lower the hurdle. They want to know how they can appear to be meeting Government targets without breaking a sweat. There is a conflict not between different parties in the House, but between the House—it knows the policies that came from the Government—and the civil servants who have the job of writing measures to deliver and implement Government policy. They should not rewrite such policies to give themselves an easier life while leaving everyone else with bigger problems.

6.30 pm

The Minister understandably rebuffed the question of whether that would contribute to our ability to choose not to go down the nuclear path by saying that it was not in his remit to address energy industry issues because we are merely discussing a Bill on housing. That is perfectly fair. By the same token, however, he cannot try to shelter from reducing carbon savings as a result of improving household energy efficiency by saying that other savings would be met and exceeded in other parts of industry. We made specific commitments in relation to the housing sector and it is against those commitments that we are being asked to define a position in the Bill.

Hon. Members have counted the number of Labour MPs who signed the early-day motion, with different results.

David Taylor : It is 229.

Alan Simpson: It seems that the figure is now 229.

Someone said that it is hard to find a loser, but there are 230 potential losers—the 229 Labour MPs who signed the early-day motion in good faith and the country. Those commitments are not abstract figures. They will affect the quality of life of the most fuel-poor people in the country. The Government need to accept that the challenge that faces us is to stand by the commitments that we have made.

In a letter on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs dated 28 October, Alan Clifford of the sustainable energy policy division wrote to Mr. Robson, chair of the Association for the Conservation of Energy and a member of the Government's Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, in an attempt to rationalise why the lower figure of 4.2 million tonnes of carbon emissions was being set. He said:

Unfortunately, we are getting into the realms of pantomime. Civil servants may consistently say that the figure was not a target, but other voices in the background say that it was. The Labour manifesto said:

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So that target was defined in the manifesto.

The letter went on to say that the energy efficiency action plan, published in 2004, reduced the target to 4.2   million tonnes because that was deemed to be the appropriate figure. So the 5 million tonnes was not a fixed figure. However, when the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Matthew Taylor) asked the Prime Minister:

his response could not have been clearer. He said:

We have targets that are defined as unconditional; targets that are defined as a quantum; targets that are defined by a succession of Labour Ministers; and targets that are endorsed, approved and supported by 229 Labour Members. I suspect that the overwhelming majority of local authorities, non-governmental organisations and everyone who works in the environment and fuel poverty sector all envisaged us setting and standing by our targets. The question that will baffle the public is why on earth we would want to renege on them now.

The Minister said that there was a danger that setting the target would create a mood of complacency and we would be held back, but the final paragraph of Alan Clifford's letter nails the lie of that when he says:

By setting the lower figure of 4.2 million tonnes, there is a calculated level of under-achievement in which officials recognise that the Government will be forced to identify other measures. Why do we build in a guarantee of failure to meet the targets that we have set for ourselves when it is within in our reach to do so and to stand by the commitments that we made?

Hon. Members are right to say that the energy efficiency industry waits for us—pleads with us—to set those targets, which it will meet. It is incomprehensible that the Minister asks the House to set lower standards when our original targets are within our reach and we should stand by them. I am not asking him to do a Dolly Parton and stand by our man, but I am asking him to stand by our manifesto, which would be welcomed by the public and the party.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con): I shall be brief because I agree with every word my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) and the hon. Members for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White), for Ludlow (Matthew Green) and for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) said. I declare a possible non-financial interest. For many years, I was a qualified architect, but for much of that time I was off the drawing board and now receive no income from my erstwhile profession. Indeed, I said in Committee and
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before that I have a reverse interest to declare because for years I paid professional subscriptions to the Royal Institute of British Architects to no avail.

I feel a sense of sadness about the proposal. I honestly do not think that there was any need for the Government to resile from their commitment to improve energy efficiency by 20 per cent. by 2010 on 2000 AD levels. They have made a tactical mistake, and I shall set out why. As hon. Members have said, they repeatedly assured us that that target would be set. My hon. Friend the Member for Poole said that they repeated that 15 times. The target has got into the public psyche, which is good and heart-warming. It has also been fully supported by the Energy Saving Trust, the Sustainable Development Commission, the Government's official advisers and at least two other Departments—the Department of Trade and Industry and DEFRA. I cannot understand why the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has suddenly decided to revise it.

The plan is to save 4.2 megatonnes of carbon rather than 5 megatonnes. That is a reduction of 16 per cent., which is significant. However, as other hon. Members said, the revised target means that we will hit only a 19   per cent. overall improvement in energy efficiency instead of 20 per cent. by 2010. Overall, the House supports the Government in the early-day motion that has been tabled. I hope that the number of Labour Members who support the proposal does not increase, as that detracts from the all-party nature of the issue, for which there is general support. I shall not be here in 2010, but if I am correct, my colleagues, whether they belong to the Government or the Opposition, will not feel a sense of triumph if the Government fail. There will be a sense of sadness, combined with respect for the fact that the Government kept to their original target. Even at the 59th minute of the 11th hour, I beseech the Minister, for whom I have a very strong regard, to change his mind or seek to persuade the Government to do so.

In conclusion, the Government have set myriad targets—some people may say too many—throughout the field of government. I am a member of the Public Administration Committee, which produced a report on Government targets. We may have complained that there are too many targets, some of which contradict others, but we have never suggested that pinpointed targets are anything other than a good thing for the Government to try to achieve. If the Government do not accept the Lords amendment, which was tabled by Baroness Hanham on 3 November, they will detract from the efficacy of their target-setting policies. I beseech the Minister, who represents Streatham—I must remember not to say "St. Reatham"—to reconsider his position, as he will win tremendous all-party support not only from hon. Members but from the public at large, persuading them that we take the issue of energy savings and energy efficiency very seriously indeed.

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