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Of course there is a role for reporting and some very good points have been raised. DEFRA has already made a commitment to providing an annual report on measures to reduce emissions and on the sort of steps that need to be taken. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) brought forward measures in his successful Bill, which he introduced with great skill. I am pleased that the Government supported and endorsed his Bill, which included reporting measures both to the DTI and to DEFRA.
There has always been a great deal of argument about the Government having a co-ordinated approach to sustainable and environmental measures. It is absolutely right that the Government adopt such an approach, so we need to think carefully about how best to carry out the reporting. We do not want individual reports from individual Departmentswe need some co-ordination in a cross-government approach. Those issues can be discussed in respect of the shape of the reports and the commitments that have been given. That perhaps still requires some extra thought.
There is no doubt about the great role for microgeneration or the great role of small-scale decentralised power. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North mentioned, there are also barriers. The buying price of electricity needs to be resolved, as it is unsatisfactory at present. I welcome the steps taken to remove some of the planning barriers to microgeneration. Other important issues are the cost of new technology and the Governments role in moving new technology from the development stage into the marketing stage. The inertia that acts as a barrier to new approaches, new ideas and innovation is another problem.
Fiscal measures are crucial and I greatly welcome measures announced in the Budget, such as the additional £50 million to help promote microgeneration. Together with the existing budget, it amounts to about £70 million. Energy efficiency commitments are also important and the Government have been successful in developing them.
I saw for myself how British Gas, as part of its contribution to its energy commitments, gave discounts on council tax for people who took up the option of having cavity wall insulation. It was hugely successful. The discounts were quite modest, but it proved attractive to consumers to secure the discount by taking up the subsidised cavity wall insulation that was part of the energy efficiency commitment. I very much hope that the EEC3 format provides an opportunity to develop some radical innovative ideas about using microgeneration and encouraging new measures for energy efficiency.
Similar measures can be applied to stamp duty. Personally, I think that some form of discount on stamp duty is a good idea. I accept that it is a complicated argument: does it apply to new homes; can it be applied to retro-fit those who modernise their homes through energy efficiency measures; can it be linked to a new code of sustainable building; can it be applied to zero emission homes? There is a lot of debate on those matters and a great deal of working out still to be done about the shape that will emerge.
For those reasons, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South will not press the new clause to the vote.
There remains a lot of work to be done on the final shape, although I support the principle of the new clause. I know very well that within the Government there has to be discussion and issues of timing and costs have to be dealt with and resolved. I would not expect Treasury Ministers to accept the new clauses tonight, but we have seen what the Chancellor and the Treasury team can do in using fiscal measures to reach outcomes on climate change and sustainability. They have demonstrated that they are prepared to use such measures and apply themand we know that they work and that they are successful. I recognise that the Government cannot accept these amendments as they stand, but I urge my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to give serious consideration to the very sound principles that they advocate. They make economic and financial sense, and they certainly make environmental sense in the light of the Governments ambitious objectives, targets and commitments. Every section of government has to make a contribution if we are to be successful.
John Healey: This has been an interesting debate. It seems that the on-off relationship between the Tories and the Liberals in respect of environmental policiesthat elusive cross-party consensusmay be on again.
I think that the areas of agreement between the Government and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) are much greater than the areas of disagreement. We agree about the importance of energy efficiency and water conservation, and about the potential of microgeneration. We agree too with the assessment that the UK market for the available technologies is in its infancy, and that fiscal and other economic measures may have a role to play, along with regulation, public spending and, in some cases, information campaigns.
The differences between the Government and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South result from the specific details of new clause 9. I hope that my hon. Friend will take account of what my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) said in that regard. Much of this ground was covered in the debates on the private Members Bill successfully introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz). My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Joan Walley) made a number of telling points, and she is one of the most assiduous and consistent campaigners on the environment in the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe also made some telling points when he talked about the progress that has been made on the environment since 1999, and the important measures that the Government have introduced in that time. He played a pivotal part in that process, during his time as a Minister with responsibility for the environment. He rightly said that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor
has an excellent record on the environment, and that he has used fiscal and other economic instruments to good effect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe was also right in what he said about the climate change levy. The Opposition opposed it when it was introduced, and still do so now. The measure contributes almost one fifth of our emissions savings, as we pursue our climate change objectives. I must advise the Opposition that it is fine to will the ends but, in the end, they must back the means and the measures that will deliver those ends.
Household efficiency measures are of central importance if we want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and if we want to provide greater security for the future. Improvements in energy efficiency are also essential if we are to reduce some of the unacceptable levels of fuel poverty in this country. That is why we have introduced all the measures to that end since 1997, many of which the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy) outlined. She saved me a job by doing that, but she missed the support that the Government have given to the Energy Saving Trust, and the reduced rate of VAT on all the significant microgeneration technologies.
I come now specifically to new clause 9. I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South, and all those who signed the new clause, that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor publishes two documents, the pre-Budget report and the Budget, that set out our analysis of the situation and our plans for appropriate fiscal measures in this area. If my hon. Friend looks at the Budget, he will see that chapter 7, which runs to 24 pages, covers issues relating to water conservation, measures to protect natural resources and, in a substantial section, climate change and energy efficiency.
Chapter 7 also sets out a range of new measures introduced at the Budget. It outlines the extra £20 million that we promised to help local authorities to promote energy efficiency, £50 million to try to give a boost to microgeneration markets and the installation of up to 25,000 microgeneration units in schools, community buildings and homes. It sets out a new agreement we have reached with energy suppliers to provide an extra 250,000 subsidised insulation installations by 2008. Those measures will help with our carbon savings and will help to reduce annual fuel bills for those in most poverty.
New clause 10 and new schedule 2 set out proposals on stamp duty. We have been pressed for some time on the matter, but are still not convinced by the case for the proposalsand my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South has not convinced us in his arguments tonight. The new clause and the new schedule duck some of the core questions, such as the level of relief, the qualifying threshold and the nature and scale of the rebates. It is hard to cost the impact of the proposals on the public purse and the contribution they might make to our climate change objectives.
There is a series of principled problems with the proposed policy measure. First, it would make the design and collection of stamp duty much more complex and costly. Secondly, it would require someoneperhaps the conveyancerto withhold money for a period. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend has discussed the proposal fully with conveyancers, because it will impose significant new burdens on small businesses at a time when we want to reduce them.
Thirdly, I point out to my hon. Friends who may be tempted to consider the proposals that a large number of buyers are exempt from stamp duty. Last year, at the Budget, we doubled the starting threshold for stamp duty to £120,000. This year, we increased it to £125,000 and have thus taken 400,000 homes a year out of the stamp duty system. About 50 per cent. of homebuyers are exempt from stamp duty, either through the new threshold or due to the fact that they are buying homes in disadvantaged areas. I ask my hon. Friends how we could refund the tax to people who had not paid it in the first place?
Does not it strike my hon. Friends as unfair that the proposed support would not be available to most people in the country? Fifty per cent. is the nationwide figure for exemptions. In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South the figure is 58 per cent. In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe, the residential sales transactions of 79 per cent. of households are exempt from stamp duty each year; in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North the figure is 85 per cent.
The proposed scheme would subsidise certain areas of the country much more than others. It would also subsidise people who are able to pay while doing nothing to help those in fuel poverty or on low incomes.
Members have urged us to do even more on the environment, and both in the Treasury and as a Government we shall do so, but the measures proposed in the new clause are not the steps we should take. If the new clause is pressed to a vote, I ask my hon. Friends to resist.
The Financial Secretary has made an excellent speech, but one in support of new clauses 9 and 10 and new schedule 1. He is absolutely right to tell hon. Members on both sides of the House that there is
no point in willing the ends if we do not will the means, and the means that we invite the House to sign up to tonight is to begin with the reporting process. I have yet to be convinced of the arguments against reporting that have been used either in the Chamber tonight or elsewhere, so I wish to press the new clause to a vote.
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