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Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): My hon. Friend knows my concern—we discussed it earlier. The Braintree scheme is admirable, but there are parts of the country where, owing to the nature of historic building construction, many householders do not have the option of installing cavity wall or similar types of insulation. If a local authority, on its own initiative, offers a council tax rebate to those householders who install insulation, those householders get a double benefit—they save some fuel costs and they get their council tax rebate. However, without support from the centre, that council tax rebate is effectively funded by other members of the community who are not fortunate enough to be able to make the energy saving. Will my hon. Friend address that point?

Mr. Newmark: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I believe that the scheme extends to loft insulation, as well. Councils throughout the land are increasingly having what we would all refer to as green agendas, and that scheme is very much part and parcel of an excellent green agenda for Braintree council.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, and the intervention on him was particularly interesting. He mentioned loft insulation. Does he accept that thatched cottages offer tremendous insulation? He will have noticed, for example, that when there is snowfall, the snow evaporates quite quickly from conventional tiled houses, whereas it remains on thatch. Could it not be argued that there ought to be some financial incentive for people with thatched houses, too?

Mr. Newmark: I am sure that my hon. Friend is an expert on thatched coverage to the upper regions of one's house, so to speak. He is absolutely right—thatch is indeed an excellent form of insulation, as is white snow.

The Braintree scheme illustrates how quickly energy savings can repay capital investments. Tax incentives ensure an even quicker return, although I sound a note of caution about fiscal incentives. I believe that Braintree district council's scheme has been so successful because it is simple and easy as well as cost-effective. It is helped, of course, by the fact that the council tax is very much on everyone's mind at the moment—especially pensioners and the less well off—and any opportunity for a discount would immediately
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be attractive. The Association for the Conservation of Energy has said of fiscal incentives for energy efficiency that

Mr. Hurd: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the Braintree example because it is hugely important. The chief executive of the Energy Saving Trust told the Environmental Audit Committee that more than 600 households have applied for the rebate in just the few months since its implementation. Does not that information confirm my hon. Friend's thesis that exactly that type of short, sharp and simple fiscal incentive will break through the consumer apathy that has been the brake on attempts by successive Governments to make a breakthrough in the energy efficiency agenda?

Mr. Newmark: Indeed, my hon. Friend makes an excellent point. In fact, I had an opportunity to speak to the councillor who is leading the charge on this—Councillor Walters—who said that he has been inundated by e-mails from other councils that want to introduce such a scheme into their local communities because of its simplicity and cost-effectiveness.

Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend has already quoted what one if not two single-interest, publicly funded quangos have said on this subject. Does he have the same scepticism about their advice as the House showed to the chief police officers' advice that was so much criticised by Opposition Members just the other day? I hope that he is not suggesting that we should all accept uncritically what a single-interest, publicly funded quango says about something.

Mr. Newmark: Once again, my right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I am always very sceptical about what comes from quangos. However, I also believe that it is important that we listen and then, having listened to whatever outside parties are involved, we reach our own conclusions and judgments. So having listened and read probably in a far more limited way than my right hon. Friend—I am sure that, as a much more learned Member, he has done much more work on this—I have reached my own conclusions, which I am presenting to the House today.

We must be conscious that not all fiscal incentives are so easy to understand. Clause 3 will require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to publish a strategy for fiscal and economic measures that will assist micro-generation and energy efficiency. The concern must be that the Chancellor's fascination with Gordian taxation schemes will run amok once again. An incentive is of no use if it cannot be readily appreciated as such by those people whom it exists to try to benefit. The danger is surely that the Bill will be railroaded into becoming yet another excuse for increased regulatory burdens in return for obscure tax credits.

Mr. Harper: My hon. Friend makes a good point about Gordian tax complexity. One or two Members
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have already mentioned the pitfall that those who set up micro-generation capacity might face if they find themselves with a liability to national non-domestic rates—business rates, to the layman—but there is also a risk, given the Chancellor of the Exchequer's well-known propensity for revenue raising, that household consumers who sell micro-generation capacity back to electricity companies might find themselves, either now or in future, taxed by the Chancellor on those revenues.

Mr. Newmark: I thank my right hon. Friend—[Interruption]—my hon. Friend. He is not right hon. yet. I meant right as in correct. I thank him for his contribution once again.

The paper, "Economic instruments to improve household energy efficiency", jointly published by DEFRA and the Treasury in 2003, lists no fewer than 12 separate economic instruments to encourage energy efficiency, including council tax and stamp duty rebates, which have already been subject to an early-day motion. I will not emit any further CO 2 on the proposals listed in that report, except to say that we must be wary that the list does not grow unchecked. I have no hesitation in speaking in support of the principle of the Bill, but we have a duty to ensure that its provisions will be implemented as well as they have been drafted.

10.54 am

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I note that the Bill's principle purpose is to consider the effects of climate change and the United Kingdom's contribution to it, so I want to dwell for a moment on the opening comments of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) and the point raised in an intervention about the Government's strategy. The hon. Gentleman has been quoted as saying that there is a worrying trend that the UK will struggle to meet the 20 per cent. reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2010, and that he wants the measure to help the   Government to get on track. He recognises the disappointment that many people feel about the Government's approach.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key), who is no longer in his place, referred to some scepticism in his local authority area about whether climate change was happening and whether it was being driven by man-made effects. The science is clear that climate change is happening and that it is being affected by man's intervention, but there is a point that gets less coverage. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) for drawing to my attention the very excellent report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs entitled, "The Economics of Climate Change", which I have had the opportunity to study in detail. The Select Committee draws attention to the fact that although climate change no doubt exists, the conversations about it and policy making are very much focused on the environment and science and have, to date, paid much less attention to the costs of climate changes and of the many measures that can be taken to deal with it.

Mr. Forth: I do not know whether my hon. Friend will come to this at some stage in his speech, to which I shall listen with fascination, but will he talk about scenarios
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and temperature ranges? Various things came out very clearly in their lordships' excellent report. For example, in paragraph 72, they say:

That all sounds very technical and obscure. Of course, for understandable reasons, the Bill's promoter did not want to detain the House for too long on the underlying principles of climate change, but will my hon. Friend consider any of that during his remarks?

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