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Justine Greening : My right hon. Friend is pursuing a valid line. Our experience in London—for example, with local targets for recycling—has produced far more creativity in places such as Wandsworth, where we have one of the highest recycling rates in the country. Local targets start to allow some sort of competition and creativity to emerge, from which broader conclusions can be drawn about what will be successful and what will not.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Her local authority, and mine in Bromley, of course, being Conservative-controlled, have an excellent record in such matters, and are in the forefront of dealing responsibly with environmental issues. It is not for nothing that we call Bromley "clean and green". And we do it in a sensible and progressive way—

Mr. Harper rose—

Mr. Forth: The Forest of Dean, no doubt, has a contribution to make, and I am delighted to give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Harper: The Forest of Dean is also clean and green. My right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) are making an important point, which has been echoed on both sides of the House. As far as local government is concerned, it sounds as though many local authorities are already reacting responsibly to local demand and a number of innovative schemes have already been implemented. Given that these issues are said to be at the top of many people's priorities, if those schemes are already happening in areas where the local electorate desire them, perhaps we could argue that the clause is unnecessary.

Mr. Forth: That relates to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening). There is indeed a strong case for saying that responsible local authorities should be free to take their own decisions on these matters and should be accountable to their own voters for what they do. The dissemination of good practice, if nothing else, should then be sufficient to drive these matters forward, rather than endlessly looking for legislation, targets and compulsion from the centre. All too often, that seems to be the fashion these days. We are probably on to an important point here and I hope that the Committee will look closely at the implications of the rather innocuous-sounding "local targets" phrase in the title of clause 5.
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Now we come on to yet another report—we seem to be knee deep in reports. As an aside, I am sure that the same sort of people who are keen about the problems of climate change, emissions and so forth are probably equally keen and concerned about deforestation and excessive use of paper. Yet this very Bill will itself generate a huge amount of governmental paper and reports. There is always an irony there that we should bear in mind.

Clause 6 provides for yet another report and this one is called the annual report on micro-generation strategy. Once again, the Secretary of State will have to present it, so he is going to be a busy chap, is he not? The report will have to tell Parliament about

well, fine. Then the clause goes on to talk about

or not, one might want to add. They will not always be achievements; presumably there may well be some miserable failures from time to time and perhaps we should know about them as well. Clause 6(c) then refers to

That is a pretty tall order.

My reading of the legislation is that we are now trying to identify the role played by micro-generation in

I wonder whether that is technically feasible. I am sure that the experts here could tell me in some detail how it could be done. They may be reluctant to do so right now for reasons that I cannot even begin to understand, but let the question just hang in the air for the moment. Once again, it illustrates how futile much of the Bill will be. We are now asking the experts to tell us what element of the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is attributable to micro-generation.

Let us suppose for a moment that overall carbon emissions went up, due to various other factors, but that micro-generation made a small contribution to bringing them down. How are we to tease out from an overall increase that offsetting reduction, which might have taken place, thanks to micro-generation? I do not know the answer and I have a strong suspicion that neither do the people who drafted the Bill. They want to say those sorts of things because it makes them feel better. There is nothing wrong with that, except that I am not sure whether we should use the law to make people feel better generally. There are many other ways of doing that, but we need not go into them at this stage.

Slightly more plausible and feasible, perhaps, is the notion of the report identifying the contribution of micro-generation towards the alleviation of so-called fuel poverty. That might be easier to do. If we took it household by household, looked at income and lifestyle and judged how much was being spent on cigarettes, beer, central heating or a coal fire—lo and behold, there may even be a windmill in the roof—perhaps we could fulfil the requirement of clause 6(c)(ii). That is my attempt to be positive, so take it for what it is worth. Other than that, clause 6 presents a bit of a difficulty and the Minister will doubtless light upon that fact in Committee.
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My hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean discussed in his expert way clause 7 and the sale of electricity produced by domestic micro-generation. This is a difficult issue, but given that this part of the Bill is apparently very important, it is worth giving some thought to. The Secretary of State, within a mere 12 months, will have to establish

I do not know the Minister's assessment of this demand, but in my view it is probably unrealisable and unachievable. I suspect that conceiving something as complex as this within 12 months could not be done. The risk that we run here is a great one, Madam Deputy Speaker, as you know. If we impose an unrealistic time limit on such an exercise, and if, in the rush to meet what would then be a statutory requirement, the Minister and his officials, with the best will in the world, cannot come up with a viable or workable proposition, we will be worse off than we were.

I have no problem with this idea in principle and concept, but if we want to establish

why place upon it an artificial time limit that runs the distinct risk of its being botched and coming out all wrong? I hope that that issue will be examined in Committee, because such a scheme would be much more feasible and attractive if the Minister were allowed to develop it to a reasonable time scale. If the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith were to include the word "reasonable", that would probably bridge the gap—we usually know what "reasonable" means, and the Minister could at least be held to account by such a phrase—and it would be better than risking failing to meet an artificial deadline.

Clause 7(2) gives rise to a further problem. It states that

We have been given no explanation as to why this provision has been included. Such a mechanism would surely function perfectly well in a much more flexible and free market. One problem has been that, for understandable reasons, the Bill's promoter did not want to detain the House for too long. I, of all people, can understand that motivation, but the price that we have therefore paid is his not spelling out in detail what this part of his Bill means and how it would work. As a result, we are somewhat at a loss. The judgment that any Member always has to make in a debate such as this is whether to take the time to explain the Bill's detail, thus seeking to persuade us of its merits, or whether to leave the detail unsaid, thereby leaving us in some doubt. Regrettably, we have had no explanation of why this important market rate provision has been built into clause 7.

Mr. Harper: Because of the lack of explanation that my right hon. Friend describes, there is a risk that the Bill could lead to "fuel poverty"—to use the Bill's own phrase—by statute. If, because of the associated costs that I outlined—no Member with more experience in these matters has intervened to offer a different
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explanation—the licensed electricity supplier discovered that buying the electricity at market rate from the customer in question did not make business sense and therefore declined to purchase it, he would be forced, by law, to stop supplying electricity to that customer. If that customer said, "Buy my electricity at market rate," and he said, "No, thank you, I don't want to," the Bill as drafted would force him to stop supplying electricity.

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