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Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) on his success in the ballot and his choice of Bill. I give it a warm welcome, not only because I am one of its sponsors, but because I believe that it is an important piece of a big and complex jigsaw aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

As the promoter of the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act 2004, which started as a private Member's Bill that I steered through in the Session before last, I am delighted to see this Bill taking another step along the same route. My enthusiasm for the Bill sometimes amounts almost to a sense of desperation, because we need such Bills so much. It is a worthwhile Bill, but it will make only a small contribution to tackling the enormous problem of climate change, and in particular, the urgent need to reduce CO 2 emissions here in the United Kingdom.

The fastest growth in carbon dioxide emissions comes from commercial premises, from transport and from the biggest wasters of energy—the domestic sector. It is a constant puzzle that most of us are responsible for more carbon dioxide emissions from our houses each year than from our cars, yet this place spends tremendous effort and political energy on restricting the use of the car, and practically none on restricting carbon dioxide emissions from our homes. If we did that, we would reduce our bills and improve our home comfort levels, as well as reduce carbon dioxide and slow the rate of climate change.
 
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On the whole, we have had a non-partisan debate today, which is most welcome. Speaking as someone who steered a private Member's Bill through to Royal Assent in 2004, I have to say that it is good to have a broad consensus, but strong, firm Government action is also required. It is disappointing that, 14 months after my Bill gained Royal Assent, it has still not been implemented. That is my word of caution to the hon. Member for Southampton, Test: getting a Bill passed is difficult enough, but getting it implemented can be even more difficult. As far as I know, there is not yet a consultation document on the Bill that I steered though. I cannot even get confirmation that the working party to draw up the document has yet met. I look forward to hearing the Minister reassure me about that on another occasion.

The fact remains that the Bill provides a modest but valuable step on the road to tackling climate change. It seems to have the good will of the Government, albeit perhaps a little grudgingly given in some respects. Perhaps there is more trouble ahead in Committee. However, I say to both the Government and the hon. Member for Southampton, Test that we must ensure that the Bill not only gets through Second Reading and Committee, but is subsequently put into effect.

I certainly hope that we can get the Bill through today and that it gains the success that it richly deserves, but there are predators—perhaps some are still in their place right now—and pitfalls ahead. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test needs to beware not only of those who are overt about their approach to the Bill, but of those such as the Minister, perhaps, who appear to come smiling and bearing gifts. Sometimes things can go wrong.

Through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I want to tell the hon. Gentleman that it is important that the House is debating these issues and his Bill today. The Bill that has just gained its Second Reading and this Bill make a valuable and substantial contribution to moving forward on climate change and providing Britain with some solutions to that problem, particularly in respect of its built environment.

As has already been said, our built environment is one of the most extensive producers of carbon dioxide, but simple savings can be made not just at low cost, but at zero economic cost. I hope that the House will pass the Bill, not just here on Second Reading but in Committee and subsequently, and I hope that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test will have the opportunity to wind up the debate and put his Bill before the House for approval.

4.23 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Inadvertently, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) has provided a graphic illustration of how worthless many of these Bills turn out to be. His Bill became an Act, but he has admitted that nothing has happened since. That tells its own story and hon. Members would be well advised to reflect carefully about legislating for all the good things in life and should not be too surprised when little happens as a result.

When I had a quick look at the list of the Bill's supporters, I noticed that it included 11 hon. Members, not including the promoter himself, yet only three seem
 
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to be present in their places today. That does not suggest to me an overwhelming degree of enthusiasm for the Bill. Sadly, Madam Deputy Speaker, as you will know, that is not an unusual phenomenon. Members are all too ready to sign up to Bills, but cannot drag themselves here on a Friday to support them and see them put on the statute book.

Dr. Whitehead: Could the right hon. Gentleman save time and read the telephone directory out? Would that be helpful?

Mr. Forth: I welcome the hon. Gentleman here on his one Friday of the year, bearing his little Bill—[Interruption.] I am going to finish my point.

Martin Horwood : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Forth: I would be delighted to give way.

The hon. Member for Southampton, Test should know that all this is part of proceedings on a Friday. I say in all courtesy him that those of us who are here every Friday because we consider doing so to be our duty to our constituents do not take very kindly to being admonished by the once-a-year Friday attendees for our conduct of parliamentary proceedings. I now give way to the hon. Member for Cheltenham.

Martin Horwood: I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I speak, I think, for new Liberal Democrat Members, at least, when I say that one reason why it is sometimes difficult to motivate Members to come here on a Friday and to stay to the end of a debate such as this is that we are growing rather cynical about some of the House's procedures and the way in which they are exploited by certain—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I cannot allow this debate to stray that far from the Bill before us.

Mr. Forth: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker; I seem to have touched a rather sensitive nerve, unsurprisingly.

The Bill contains a number of interesting and controversial ideas, including our old friend the alleviation of "fuel poverty", to which I shall return. It is worth another airing—it always is—and must never be left as a given. First, however—

Dr. Starkey: I recall on a previous occasion the right hon. Gentleman's mentioning that most of his contact with constituents was on a Saturday morning in Waitrose with Mrs. Forth. Does he get comments in Waitrose about fuel poverty, or does he feel that people in fuel poverty are unlikely to be able to patronise quite the same level of establishment?

Mr. Forth: The honest answer is that I do not recall anyone having raised the subject of fuel poverty—doubtless because they do not understand what it is. If they did, they would probably be as mystified by it as I am, as I shall explain to the hon. Lady and the House in a moment.
 
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First, I want to have a look at clause 1 (1), which rather tediously requires the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament each calendar year

Because all debates such as this stand alone, Madam Deputy Speaker, and we cannot possibly have regard to any previous such debate, that gives us the opportunity to rehearse the question of the meaningfulness of regular reports to Parliament. Sadly, I have yet to be convinced that obliging a Secretary of State to make regular reports to Parliament will move forward in a meaningful way any area or issue of policy. Yet again, however, here we have such a bureaucratic requirement.

I have no doubt that imposing such requirements makes people feel good about themselves and the issue that they are espousing, but I have never been too sure what Members think that laying such a report before Parliament achieves. I must admit that it is tempting at this stage to make a purely political point and to say that, of course, there is great benefit to be gained by forcing a Government to produce such a report, which would inevitably embarrass them. Very rarely do such reports suggest that Governments have made great progress, or that the objectives envisaged in the legislation in question will be fulfilled.

So I am tempted, politically, to say, let us have any number of reports forcing the Secretary of State to come to the House and admit that, almost inevitably, the various targets, aims and objectives have not been met. But something inside me says that I should not succumb to that temptation, because to do so would be over-bureaucratic and over-regulatory. In theory, at least, my party is pledged to not being bureaucratic or regulatory, although I increasingly have my doubts about that. So right at the Bill's beginning—clause 1(1)—I am at odds with it and rather unhappy about its provisions.

Clause 1(2) then tells us what the report is supposed to inform us about:

That immediately raises the question of what happens if the report says that no progress has been made in the reduction of CO 2 emissions. Are we to assume that something will happen as a result, or that this will simply embarrass the Government? If nothing will happen, what is the point of producing the report? There are not too many examples in recent political history of the mere production of a report showing that the Government of the day have failed to meet a certain set of objectives in turn leading to rectifying action by that Government. So the assumption made in many of the Bills that come before us on a Friday—Bills that, regrettably, few colleagues are here to consider—that such reports themselves produce good results is very much open to challenge, to say the least.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 10 March.
 
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