Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill

[back to previous text]

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): I do not intend to detain the Committee on the new clause, except to say that I broadly welcome what the Minister has said. The hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) has raised some valid points and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.

Malcolm Wicks: So I had better give the reply, I think, to the best of my knowledge. I will have to pass on the issue of the exact territorial extent. Will the hon. Member for Angus allow me to write to him on that issue? I recognise its importance but, geographically, I will have to take some advice. I have boasted that I have been to the Western Isles on two occasions, but unfortunately the second was when his party, using wind power, blew away the Labour candidate who I was supporting, my good friend Mr. Calum MacDonald. I did not investigate all the territories on that occasion.

Mr. Weir: Will the Minister give way?

Column Number: 62

Malcolm Wicks: I am not sure that I should, actually.

Mr. Weir: The Pentland firth is between the Orkney islands, not the Western Isles.

Malcolm Wicks: I understand that point—at least, I am certainly going to make out that I do. As I say, I have only been to the Western Isles and the other areas I will explore. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman on that important point.

A 10-year extension means that we could cover any project up to 2024. I hope that that clarifies that issue. On the issue of the mainland, I anticipated the question and prepared my answer earlier; I hope that it fits the bill. The question of the mainland, alongside that of the islands, was one of those raised in our consultation. We are still considering the responses that we received. However, we made it clear in the consultation that the evidence provided so far by independent consultants suggested that exercising the power on the mainland would result in little additional renewable generation, with most of the benefit going to projects that would have been developed anyway. That would not represent good value for electricity consumers, who will ultimately have to pay for the scheme. That is our current position.

2.15 pm

Mr. Weir: I understand the point that the Minister made about the area scheme regarding extension to 2024. If someone starts a scheme now they will get the benefit up to 2024, which will allow them a significant payback period. If they were to start the scheme in 2012, however, they would get only 12 years, which would not give the same payback scheme. Although we are talking about a 20-year period, the full payback period will apply only to a scheme started now or within the next year. Is that the case?

Malcolm Wicks: Under the original Act, we envisaged a 10-year period. As a result of the development of future projects, we listened and thought it appropriate to extend by another 10 years. I am a Fabian and a gradualist. The hon. Gentleman has got another 10 years—or rather the Scottish isles have. I cannot go further than that. That might not satisfy him, but that is the current position.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 3

Renewable heat

    ‘(1)   It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to take such steps as he considers appropriate to promote the use of heat produced from renewable sources.

    (2)   For the purposes of subsection (1), heat produced by any plant is produced from renewable sources to the extent that the plant is fuelled by renewable sources.

    (3)   The steps which the Secretary of State may take for the purposes of subsection (1) include, in particular, steps for the purpose of promoting—

      (a)   the installation of plant which is or may be fuelled by renewable sources,

Column Number: 63

      (b)   the adaptation of plant so as to enable it to be fuelled by renewable sources, or

      (c)   the production of heat by plant which is fuelled partly by renewable sources and partly by other sources.

    (4)   In this section—

“fossil fuel” means coal, substances produced directly or indirectly from coal, lignite, natural gas, crude liquid petroleum, or petroleum products (and “natural gas” and “petroleum products” have the same meanings as in the Energy Act 1976 (c. 76)); “plant” includes any equipment, apparatus or appliance; “renewable sources” means sources of energy other than fossil fuel or nuclear fuel.’.—[Malcolm Wicks.]

Brought up, and read the First and Second time.

Amendment proposed to the proposed new clause, (b), at end insert—

    ‘(3A)   The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament an annual report on—

      (a)   steps that he has taken to promote renewable heat and any steps that at the time of the report he proposes to take; and

      (b)   the effect of any steps taken by him and an assessment of any steps specified in the report that he proposes to take.’.—[Mark Lazarowicz.]

Question, That the amendment be made, put and negatived.

Clause added to the Bill.

New Clause 4

Reports under section 1 of the Sustainable Energy Act 2003: energy efficiency of residential accommodation

    ‘(1)   Section 1 of the Sustainable Energy Act 2003 (c. 30) (annual reports on progress towards sustainable energy aims) is amended as follows.

    (2)   In subsection (1)—

      (a)   omit “and” at the end of paragraph (c), and

      (b)   at the end of paragraph (d) insert “; and

      (e)   achieving the target set out in section 217(1) of the Housing Act 2004 (target for the energy efficiency of residential accommodation in England).”

    (3)   After subsection (1A) insert—

      “(1AA)   The report must also include estimates of the effect of the progress made in the reporting period towards achieving the target set out in section 217(1) of the Housing Act 2004 on—

      (a)   emissions of carbon dioxide in England, and

      (b)   the number of households in which one or more persons are living in fuel poverty.”.’.—[Dr. Whitehead.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I hope that the Committee will agree to the new clause, whose aim is straightforward: to bring into the mechanism of the Sustainable Energy Act 2003, which contains requirements on annual reports on progress towards sustainable energy aims, the targets that are set out in section 217 of the Housing Act 2004. That section requires the Secretary of State to

    “take reasonable steps to ensure that by 2010 the general level of energy efficiency of residential accommodation in England has increased by at least 20 per cent. compared with the general level of such energy efficiency in 2000.”

Column Number: 64

The purpose of the new clause is to add to the annual reports on progress towards sustainable energy aims provided for in the Sustainable Energy Act 2003 an annual report on that particular aim referred to in the Housing Act 2004. The new clause would also require a report to be given each year that examines both the

    “emissions of carbon dioxide . . . and . . . the number of households in which one or more persons are living in fuel poverty.”

Such a provision would give some reporting milestones to the aim set out in the Housing Act 2004.

Gregory Barker: Again, I shall not detain the Committee long. The Opposition strongly support the clause and urge the Government to reach the target. That is particularly important given that they are behind on reaching their climate change targets. Perhaps I will go into that at greater length in respect of my own new clauses.

Energy efficiency is central to our efforts to combat climate change and represents the quickest, cheapest and perhaps the most easy way among all the different levers under our control to reduce carbon emissions. It has the double impact of helping the planet and helping to eradicate fuel poverty, and can therefore improve the lives of the hundreds of thousands if not millions of people in the UK who are still suffering fuel poverty or are at risk of doing so.

I am pleased to be chairing a Warm Front seminar tomorrow in Bexhill. Warm Front is a terrific campaign. It was initiated under the previous Government, and I am glad that it has been followed through positively and enthusiastically by this Government. There is still a great deal more for the campaign to achieve, however, and I hope that tomorrow in Bexhill I will get an opportunity to help to promote it locally. The new clause would bring back to the centre of government the importance of doing far more on energy efficiency. There is no better way to ensure that the Government do that than holding them accountable and auditing and monitoring their performance, which to date has not been good enough.

Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): I very strongly support the new clause moved by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead). I know from previous debates that the Government do not like making reports and producing targets unless they themselves have set them. It is a question of the Government taking some ownership of the need for progress and for the new clause to be added to the Bill. It is a low-cost option for the Government, as well as a simple step. It is a question that they should be happy and enthusiastic to answer. I very much hope that the Minister will take ownership and accept the new clause.

We need to take a look at how the Government deal with private Members’ Bills and how seriously they take their reporting and accountability role. My own Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act 2004 gave the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister some additional powers to deal with sustainable buildings and housing. The Minister may refer to the fact that a code of practice on sustainable housing is currently out for
Column Number: 65
consultation. He may say that it is premature for targets to be set. He may suggest that the process is working in non-statutory ways and that the Government are expecting the market to deliver or local authorities to act out of the goodness of their hearts or the fatness of their wallets to improve the sustainability of social housing. Perhaps the housing associations are intended to do that.

There is a big gap between the words that Ministers utter in this place and the performance on the ground in new building, let alone anything that might happen with the existing building stock. Accepting the new clause would be a good way for the Minister to unjam the ODPM’s current view about imposing, as it would see it, additional requirements on housing and to ensure that the Government’s intention to improve energy efficiency and to increase the sustainability of housing takes priority. It would send a signal to other Departments, and particularly the ODPM, that it is not enough to rely on the market to produce the environmental and sustainability benefits that everybody in this room wants to see.

I urge the Minister to take a serious look at the new clause. It would not cost him very much, it would send an important signal to other Departments and it could be an important way to help the United Kingdom meet its sustainable energy targets.

Malcolm Wicks: We do indeed support new clause 4. Back in 2004, we published a new residential energy efficiency aim, as required by the Sustainable Energy Act 2003. We felt that we could save 3.5 million tonnes of carbon emitted from homes in England. Later that year, the Housing Act 2004 set a second target for household energy efficiency, requiring the Secretary of State to take reasonable steps to improve residential energy efficiency by 20 per cent. by 2010, with the year 2000 as the baseline.

The Housing Act 2004 did not require the Government to publish a report on progress toward the energy efficiency targets. The reporting requirement in the 2003 Act was addressed by the Energy Act of 2004, which obliges the Government to report annually on progress. Therefore, it seems logical to include in the Bill before us an equivalent reporting requirement for the Housing Act 2004 and its targets.

Should the Bill obtain Royal Assent with the clause in place, we would fulfil its requirements as part of the Government’s annual reports on implementation of the energy White Paper objectives. That would be consistent with the approach currently taken for other reporting obligations under the Sustainable Energy Act 2003. I am bound to say that combining those reports would also be energy efficient. I am pleased to confirm that the Government fully support the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

The Chairman: We will now come to new clause 13. I call Mr. Barker to move the new clause.

Column Number: 66

Gregory Barker: Thank you, Mr. Benton. I wish to start by withdrawing new clause 13 in favour of new clause 14.

New Clause 14

Parish councils: power to set up local energy schemes

    ‘(1)   Subject to this section a parish council (or community council in Wales) may establish or assist in the establishment of a local energy scheme.

    (2)   If a parish council (or community council in Wales) is satisfied that a local energy scheme would—

      (a)   assist with the purposes of this Act,

      (b)   help promote local employment,

      (c)   generate economic activity within its area, or

      (d)   in any other way encourage or assist with measures to reverse community decline,

    then that council may establish or assist in the establishment of a local energy scheme.

    (3)   Two or more such councils may jointly establish or assist in the establishment of a local energy scheme.

    (4)   In this section a local energy scheme is a scheme which—

      (a)   improves energy efficiency, or generates sustainable energy primarily for consumption, in the area or areas of the council or councils concerned; and

      (b)   is situated in the area or areas of the council or councils concerned.’.—[Gregory Barker.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Gregory Barker: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 15—Clarification of power to promote well-being—

    ‘(1)   Section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000 (c. 22) (promotion of well-being) is amended as follows.

    (2)   After subsection (6) insert—

      “(7)   For the avoidance of doubt it is hereby stated that the power in subsection (1) may be used for the promotion of measures to alleviate climate change.”’.

Gregory Barker: New clause 14 would give an enabling power bringing 10,000 parish councils into the national efforts to reduce climate change and to alleviate fuel poverty. We need their efforts and their local knowledge. As a sponsor of the Local Communities Sustainability Bill in 2003, and as one of the cross-party advisers to that campaign, I feel strongly about the issue. We need to mobilise an army of opinion throughout the country, and parish councils are the linchpins of rural and suburban communities.

I emphasise that we must unleash the local knowledge of thousands of councils. Here at Westminster, we cannot possibly know everything that they may wish to do. That is the beauty of the new clause: it would confer enabling powers to bring forth new ideas and fresh thinking based on the local circumstances and particular needs of individual communities throughout the country, empowering local people. It would involve communities everywhere.

I emphasise, too, that nearly 700 such councils signed up for the Local Communities Sustainability Bill. Almost all the public meetings on that Bill were
Column Number: 67
attended by 100 to 400 people. During those meetings in towns and villages throughout the country, local energy was invariably one of the first topics. People are interested in what they can do locally. They worry about climate change, absolutely, but there is also a sense of powerlessness among the public at large. The clause is designed specifically to address that, enabling people—individuals, families, communities, neighbours—to get involved and to feel that there is something that they can do.

2.30 pm

Let me inform the Committee about some of the initiatives that could result from this enabling clause. The Sustainable Energy Partnership very helpfully did a phone-around of some parish councillors. I do not pretend that the list is comprehensive or that it should be seen as a rigorous survey; it is just a selection of a few ideas that have been suggested by parish councillors who are supporters.

One suggestion was to appoint a microgeneration or local energy officer to promote and work with area power companies. Obviously that is something that most parish councils would not be able to do on their own, but they could co-operate in informal networks to do it on an appropriate scale. In appropriate parts of the country, certainly in Scotland, there could be hydro-site surveys to find the best areas for local companies and community schemes. There could also be wind power surveys to find the best areas for local companies and community schemes. If there is going to be an extension of onshore wind power, it has to be with community consent. It has to be at the instigation, and with the co-operation of, local people; not, as has sadly happened in certain very notable cases, over their heads, giving the renewables energy movement a bad name. Local buy-in to wind power is important and parish councils are an ideal way to facilitate it.

Other ideas include promoting biomass to, and with, local farmers; small kick-start grants for microgeneration; installing trainer schemes for local young people; opportunities for parish councils to receive information on public-private partnership schemes; and opportunities to endorse local energy and energy efficiency schemes, with leaflets and advertising. It is so much more effective if there is local buy-in to those promotions, rather than if people receive standard, centrally distributed information from Whitehall.

Further suggestions include competitions for suppliers, such as “Give us the best deal, and we’ll promote your product in return for a discount on equipment.” Companies could be persuaded to take opportunities to deal with fuel poverty, by using innovative technology. There could be bulk purchase opportunities, particularly in relation to energy efficiency and microgeneration, to get discounts and resell what can often be quite prohibitively expensive technologies to individual householders.

Not all parish councillors have an officer, but there could be someone—the clerk perhaps—who could volunteer to attend the Home Energy Conservation
Column Number: 68
Act 1995 regional forums to disseminate latest best practice and innovation in the all-important area of energy conservation. Inter-parish energy forums could be established to bring together and promote good ideas and best practice, so that people can learn from the practical experiences of other communities who have tackled the problem. That would underline the whole notion that we are all in this together.

There is a host of good ideas that the new clause could help to make happen. Why is it so important? I shall not labour the point but I shall give one reason. Not so long ago, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that as regards the Government’s manifesto commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010, based on 1990 levels, on current policies:

    “Instead of a 20  per cent. reduction, we will achieve one of 14  per cent.”—[Official Report, 8 December 2004; Vol. 428, c. 1161-62.]

By January of this year, however, the Government’s energy review announced that, on current policies:

    “Our latest projections suggest that the UK will have reduced CO2 emissions to around 10 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2010.”

In other words, the target is falling, and we are going backwards, not forwards. So it is clear that a lot more needs to be done and that the Government in Westminster and Whitehall do not have all the answers. We need to mobilise the parish councils and involve the rest of the nation. The problem of climate change cannot be tackled in Westminster alone, so let us take the campaign local. I urge the Committee to support the new clause. It will involve up to 10,000 new councillors in striving towards an objective that we all wish to see achieved.

Andrew Stunell: Again, I rise to support the hon. Gentleman’s new clause. Many opportunities are best taken at grass-roots level, and the parish level of government in England certainly provides the democratic involvement that can lead to the engagement of the local community and its ownership of a scheme that is promoted by the parish. It is not even top-down from parish level; it is more a question of the parish being a suitable vehicle to harness local willingness to take this type of action forward.

I hope that the Bill’s promoter and the Government will look kindly on this very modest addition to the Bill, which provides a useful enabling power for the lowest democratic level in England and will clearly be of value and benefit in some very specific cases. I hope that it will also create a fashion for engaging in sustainability and environmental improvements.

Gregory Barker: I would now like to speak to new clause 15. Its aim is to clarify the well-being powers of local authorities under section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000 in relation to measures to alleviate climate change, which might not be covered by the present legal power.

There is complete unanimity on the objectives of the new clause—that the wide well-being powers for local authorities under section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000 should enable action on climate change. There is strong and good Government guidance to that effect, so there is clearly no division there; we are
Column Number: 69
all as one. However, I am advised that the law might not allow such action. Section 2(1) gives councils the power to do anything that will achieve any of the following:

    “the promotion or improvement of the economic well-being of their area . . . the promotion or improvement of the social well-being of their area . . . the promotion or improvement of the environmental well-being of their area.”

Section 2(2) clarifies that, saying that powers may be used for

    “the whole or any part of a local authority’s area, or . . . all or any persons resident or present in a local authority’s area”.

Everybody expects that to cover schemes to alleviate climate change, but there is some evidence that it might not.

For example, let us suppose that a local authority decides to back a small wind farm that will reduce CO2 emissions. It is sited skilfully and with the consent of the local community, so there is no local opposition, and planning issues are properly dealt with. It might be a private or a community scheme, as envisaged under clause 9 of the Bill. The council wants to use its resources—people and perhaps even money—to help to get the scheme going, and thinks that that can be done under section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000. Government guidance says that it can do that, but does the law?

The proposed scheme will not promote or improve the economic well-being of anybody in the area, because there will be no local jobs—the supplying company will just arrive, install the turbine and leave. It will not necessarily promote or improve the social well-being of any people living in the area, as the resulting energy will simply be sent through the national grid, and it might not promote or improve the environmental well-being of any people in the area because the CO2 reduction, crucial as it is, does not of itself do that. It is true that it could play a tiny part in reducing the chance of flooding or bad weather in 20 to 50 years’ time, but it may not improve the environment of the people living there now as the law requires. Even the most ardent champion of renewable power would baulk at suggesting that. I ask hon. Members to imagine that CO2 has been reduced in their area by such a scheme—that is terrific, and indeed, vital—but I ask them how it benefits them and their neighbours now.

CO2 reduction is vital, but it may not, of itself, benefit the residents of the area now. The well-being power under section 2 of the 2002 Act may not apply and that is absurd. No one wants that; it was never the intention, but, believe it or not, some local councillors have been told by legal officers that the well-being power may not extend to initiatives that only, or exclusively, reduce CO2. In this litigious age, the law needs clarification to give certainty to local legal advisers.

I hope that the Minister will back the new clause, which would achieve what we all want. I hope it will offer clarity and encourage local councils who are on the brink of taking action, but who were tipped back by the measure towards not taking action. I offer the new clause as a genuine way to remove any legal doubt that may exist in some quarters.

Column Number: 70
Previous Contents Continue
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 10 February 2006