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Mr. Hayes: The Minister said that the amendment, which was supported in the Lords by Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Cross Benchers, but not by members of the governing party, was a sledgehammer to crack a nut. He said that it was like using a JCB or a juggernaut to deal with a problem that could be dealt with much more lightly. However, it has managed to attract the support of no less a group of people than the National Pensioners Convention, Shelter, Age Concern, Help the Aged, the National Right to Fuel Campaign, WWF, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the all-party groups on warm homes and on intelligent energy, the Association for the Conservation of Energy and National Energy Action. Most people who are concerned about the welfare of some of our most vulnerable citizens, as well as most people who are concerned about energy conservation, disagree fundamentally with the Minister's analysis.

Dr. Iddon rose—

Mr. Hayes: If the amendment is a sledgehammer to crack a nut, it is supported by a considerable number of people worth listening to, perhaps including the hon. Gentleman.

Dr. Iddon: I was chairman of housing when the Conservatives were in power, and I suffered a 75 per cent. cut in funding for both the private and public sectors. Having listened to the hon. Gentleman, may I ask whether, if they regain power, the Conservatives would commit themselves to a SAP rating of 65?

Mr. Hayes: The hon. Gentleman is a wise and shrewd enough parliamentarian to know that you would not permit me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to detach myself from the proper consideration of the amendment and meander into a debate about the history, interesting as it may be, of his service in local government, or indeed into a fanciful discussion about what may happen at a distant time in the future—although in fact I do not expect it to be very distant, as I should be replacing the Minister in a few months' time if what we read in the press is true.

I will be absolutely straight with the hon. Gentleman, who speaks with great passion about these subjects: the Conservatives, if I have anything to do with it, will take the issue of fuel poverty seriously. I believe very strongly in the warm homes agenda, and I will certainly, as Minister, review what he has said and done with a view to making significant progress in the campaign against fuel poverty. That is said genuinely; I am not trying to
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evade his point. He would not expect a bigger commitment than that, given that I am the Opposition spokesman, not the Minister, but I assure him that I will address the issue of fuel poverty when I become Minister and get the red boxes, the car and all the rest of it in a few months' time, and when the Minister begins to enjoy his long retirement and is relieved of the appropriate pressure that is being brought to bear on him.

9 pm

The amendment demands that all social housing should meet the standard assessment procedure rating of 65. That is the measure of energy efficiency in homes that is agreed by the Government and recognised elsewhere. There are two aspects to this debate: one concerns carbon emission targets, and the other fuel poverty. Both were well aired in the other place. Perhaps I may beg your indulgence for a second, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to pay tribute to Baroness Hanham and Lord Hanningfield, who did much good work there, together with noble colleagues from other parties. I single them out for particular praise because they did their very best to improve the worst aspects of the Bill. Lord Hanningfield pointed out that the Government had a manifesto commitment to decrease CO 2 emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010 based on 1990 levels; that from 1990 to 1997 carbon emissions decreased by 13.1 megatonnes of carbon; and that since this Government were elected in 1997 they have remained virtually static, while in three of the past four years they have increased. In August this year, the Environmental Audit Committee reported that the Government's latest forecasts indicate that carbon emissions by 2010 will be 8 megatonnes more than the target—a 25 per cent. shortfall.

The amendment calls for a 20 per cent. improvement in domestic energy efficiency by 2010, based on 2000 levels. That is equivalent to the saving of 5 megatonnes of carbon emissions from the domestic sector by 2010 that the Government originally stated as their intention and is the target that they assured the public no fewer than 15 times would be set as the energy efficiency aim under the Sustainable Energy Act 2003. A range of Ministers assured both Houses that that would be the case, until April this year when they reduced it to 16 per cent.—a saving of 4.2 megatonnes.

The original target is supported by the Energy Saving Trust, the Government's official adviser on energy efficiency; the Cabinet Office performance and innovation unit, the Government's advisers on energy policy; and the Sustainable Development Commission, the Government's advisers on sustainable development. It is also supported by a large number of Members on both sides of the House, particularly on the Labour Benches, who have taken fuel poverty, carbon emissions, the relationship between the two and the need for better energy conservation very seriously, campaigned on it, spoken on it and made their position patently clear, whereas the Government's position on this is not at all clear. There are fundamental contradictions between what they have said in the past and what they are saying now; but even more than that, there are—heaven forbid—contradictions between what different Ministers say about it.
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The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment said that

Lord Whitty expressed sympathy with the amendment. On 19 October, at a meeting of the all-party warm homes group in Committee Room 17 in the House of Commons, the same point was made to him. He replied:

It is clear that the ODPM and the Minister stand alone in the matter. Even his ministerial colleagues are not prepared to line up alongside him and defend the change of policy. Apart from concerns about emissions and the Government's failure to meet their targets, there are even more profound anxieties about the impact on many vulnerable people.

The Government have a legal duty to end fuel poverty under the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000. The Minister has spoken about the meaning of fuel poverty and made it clear that he shares the commitment to combat it. However, the Government have agreed that a SAP rating of 65 is needed to achieve that objective. Other Ministers have made it clear that the only way in which the Government will achieve their aim is by adopting a different policy—that which is outlined in the amendment. The Government's figures demonstrate that. In 2001, the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions consultation on the decent homes standard stated:

insulation and heating measures that comply with the current decent homes standards—

Twenty-five per cent. is approximately 650,000 or 1.4 million people, based on the national average of 2.2 people per household.

The latest figures suggest that more than 1.141 million homes fall below standards on the ground of thermal insulation. The current policy is to bring those homes up to a decent homes standard, which will not necessarily mean that they escape fuel poverty. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that the Government are committed to decent homes. Of course it is right to improve the stock of social housing in all sorts of ways but it is unacceptable not to tackle the fundamental issue of insulation and fuel poverty as part of that, in order to deliver the Government's stated aims.

The House of Lords debated the matter in a measured and reasoned way. The debate showed the passions of Members from across the political spectrum. It was not simply a matter of knockabout, Opposition versus Government, politics. Any reading of the debate reveals a genuine commitment on behalf of hard-pressed people.

The gist of the Government's case is straightforward. They have effectively reneged on their original commitment. They have lowered the bar because they know that it will be difficult to reach the standard that the amendment demands of them. The excuse that the Minister gave initially in his contribution was that doing so would mean taking their eye off the ball for other aspects of the decent homes standard. However, he gave
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the game away at the end of his speech by saying that it was all about cost. He thus confirmed what was said in    the Lords. In answering the proponents of the amendment, Lord Bassam said that it would focus on one aspect of decent homes to the detriment of others. He said:

It is not as simple as that, however, because failing to support this amendment will waste vast sums of public money. The Government will ensure that works are undertaken on all social homes to bring them up to the decent homes standard, but they will still leave a large number of people in fuel poverty. The law will require them to address that issue at some stage in the future and to spend additional sums to take those people out of fuel poverty. The truth of the matter is that this is a false economy. If the Government were to get this right now, they could fulfil their legal responsibilities in one coherent and consistent programme. Instead, however, what Lord Hanningfield has described as the "double visit" to the project will cost more and be extremely wasteful. The Government's argument about money does not stack up, given that they have acknowledged their overriding legal duty in this regard.

More than that, I disagree fundamentally with the Minister on this. This is a very important issue indeed, and not to address fuel poverty would be a dreadful shame that the Minister and the Government would have to carry.

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