House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2005 - 06
Publications on the internet
Standing Committee Debates
Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill

Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill

Column Number: 101

Standing Committee C

The Committee consisted of the following Members:


Mr. Joe Benton

†Barker, Gregory (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
†Clark, Greg (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
†Goodman, Helen (Bishop Auckland) (Lab)
†Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
†Hollobone, Mr. Philip (Kettering) (Con)
†Hurd, Mr. Nick (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con)
†Lazarowicz, Mark (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op)
†Palmer, Dr. Nick (Broxtowe) (Lab)
Ruddock, Joan (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
†Smith, Mr. Andrew (Oxford, East) (Lab)
†Stunell, Andrew (Hazel Grove) (LD)
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
†Walley, Joan (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab)
†Weir, Mr. Mike (Angus) (SNP)
†Whitehead, Dr. Alan (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
†Wicks, Malcolm (Minister for Energy)
Alan Sandall, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Column Number: 103

Tuesday 28 February 2006

[Mr. Joe Benton in the Chair]

Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill

Clause 5

Local targets for microgeneration

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill

4 pm

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 26—Microgeneration: local authorities—

    ‘In the Sustainable Energy Act 2003 (c. 30), after section 4 insert—

    “4A   Microgeneration: local authorities

    (1)   The Secretary of State shall, after consulting the Local Government Association, and not later than six months after the passing of this Act, publish a report on ways in which local authorities can promote microgeneration and energy efficiency.

    (2)   The report published pursuant to subsection (1) shall consider how different types of local authorities can promote microgeneration and energy efficiency.

    (3)   Every local authority in England and Wales shall, within 12 months of the publication of the report pursuant to this section consider that report and in particular how the measures included in it can assist the authority in the discharge of its functions or the development of policies relating to—

      (a)   reducing emissions of greenhouse gases; and

      (b)   alleviating fuel poverty; and

      (c)   promoting domestic energy efficiency.

    (4)   For the purposes of this section a local authority satisfies the requirements of subsection 3 by ensuring that the report is placed on the agenda of a meeting of the authority or of any committee thereof.

    (5)   Every local authority may repeat that consideration at such intervals as it may determine.

    (6)   Every local authority may draw up, and thereafter revise as it sees fit, a report on measures to promote microgeneration and energy efficiency.

    (7)   Every local authority may take such measures that it sees fit and are within its powers to promote microgeneration and energy efficiency.

    (8)   The Secretary of State may issue guidance to local authorities as to how they may discharge their functions pursuant to this section.

    (9)   In this section “local authority” means a district council, a borough council, a London borough council, a unitary authority or a county council.”.’.

New clause 28—Local authorities: duty to consider microgeneration —

    ‘(1)   Every energy conservation authority in England and Wales shall, after having regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State, within 12 months of the passing of this Act consider how microgeneration can assist the authority in the discharge of its functions relating to—

      (a)   reducing emissions of greenhouse gases,

      (b)   alleviating fuel poverty, and

      (c)   promoting domestic energy efficiency.

Column Number: 104

    (2)   A local authority shall satisfy the requirements of subsection (1) by ensuring that the discharge of its functions relating to microgeneration is an item appearing on the agenda of any meeting of that authority or of any committee of that authority.

    (3)   Every such energy conservation authority may repeat that consideration at such intervals as it may determine.’.

Government new clause 34—Parish councils and community councils: powers in relation to local energy saving measures.—

    ‘(1)   A parish council or community council may encourage or promote any of the following—

      (a)   microgeneration within their area;

      (b)   the use within their area of electricity generated, or heat produced, by microgeneration;

      (c)   efficiency in the use, by persons in their area, of electricity, heat, gas, fuel and other descriptions or sources of energy;

      (d)   reductions in the amounts of such energy, or sources of energy, used by persons in their area;

      (e)   production in their area of—

      (i)   biomass, or

      (ii)   any fuel derived from biomass;

      (f)   use in their area of, or of electricity generated, or heat produced, from biomass or any such fuel.

    (2)   The power conferred by subsection (1) includes, in particular, power—

      (a)   on application, to provide information about goods or services available within their area offered or provided otherwise than by a person mentioned in section 142(1) of the Local Government Act 1972 (c. 70) (provision of information, etc, relating to matters affecting local government), or

      (b)   to provide advice or assistance,

    for the purpose of encouraging or facilitating any of the matters mentioned in that subsection.

    (3)   Nothing in this section authorises a parish council or community council to provide any financial assistance by—

      (a)   making a grant or loan,(b)   giving a guarantee or indemnity, or

      (c)   investing by acquiring share or loan capital.

    (4)   The power conferred by this section is exercisable by a council only to the extent that they do not (apart from this section or section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972 (c. 70) (power of local authorities to incur expenditure for certain purposes not otherwise authorised)) otherwise have the power.

    (5)   For the purposes of subsections (4) to (7B) of section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972 (c. 70)—

      (a)   any expenditure incurred by a parish council or community council under this section is to be treated as having been incurred under that section, and

      (b)   any purpose for which expenditure may be incurred under this section is to be treated as a purpose for which such a council are authorised by that section to incur expenditure.

    (6)   Subsection (5) applies to expenditure incurred by a parish council or community council under section 142 of the Local Government Act 1972 (c. 70) on information as to the services provided by them under this section, or otherwise relating to their functions under this section, as it applies to expenditure incurred under this section.

    (7)   The appropriate person may by order amend the list of matters mentioned in subsection (1) by—

      (a)   adding any other matter whose addition would in the opinion of the person making the order be likely to contribute to reduction of greenhouse gases in England and Wales;

      (b)   omitting any matter for the time being included in the list.

    (8)   In subsection (7), “the appropriate person” means—

      (a)   in relation to England, the Secretary of State, and

      (b)   in relation to Wales, the National Assembly for Wales.

    (9)   The power conferred by subsection (7) includes—

      (a)   power to make different provision for different cases, and

Column Number: 105

      (b)   power to make such supplemental or consequential provision (including provision modifying this section) and such transitional or saving provision as the person making the order thinks fit.

    (10)   The power of the Secretary of State to make an order under subsection (7) is exercisable by statutory instrument.

    (11)   No order under that subsection may be made by the Secretary of State unless a draft of the order has been—

      (a)   laid before Parliament, and

      (b)   approved by a resolution of each House.’.

Amendment (a) thereto, *leave out subsection 3(a).

Government amendment No. 13.

I have exercised the Chairman’s discretion to allow amendment (a) despite it being a starred amendment.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome you back to the Chair, Mr. Benton. I also remind Members of the declaration of interest that I made at the start of the first sitting.

Clause 5, and the related new clauses, deal with the issue of how local government can best contribute to encouraging the take-up of microgeneration. The clause as originally proposed put requirements on local authorities to set targets at local level, but I understand that that was an issue on which some difficulty has been expressed in certain quarters. I have therefore tabled new clause 26, which seeks to address the issue in a different way that may find more favour with those who saw difficulties with the original clause.

Members are aware that the importance of tackling climate change is now broadly accepted across the political parties and by the public. Although many local councils are doing good things, and some local councils are doing a lot of very good things in terms of local action to tackle climate change, the Energy Saving Trust reported in a survey earlier this month that 92 per cent. of local authorities were not prioritising climate change, which I find concerning.

It is disappointing, because local authorities are important in the field of energy efficiency but can also do a great deal in the field of microgeneration. Some Members will know that the DTI’s own report, undertaken with the Energy Saving Trust at the end of last year, suggested that, with the right policy framework, microgeneration could supply 40 per cent. of the total electricity needs of the country by 2050, and reduce domestic carbon dioxide emissions by 15 per cent. It is important, therefore, that the initiatives that are being put in place at national and UK level are matched by action on the part of local government.

I know that there is concern that it is wrong to be too prescriptive about how local government implements policy at local level to reflect national priorities, so the new clause would put on the local government agenda the issue of promoting microgeneration and energy efficiency. There is every reason to believe that that could be an extremely successful way to encourage local government to make promoting energy efficiency and mircogeneration a higher priority.

There is the experience of the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, which required local authorities to consider domestic energy efficiency. Local authorities all did that, and some three quarters took constructive action. The example of that particular legislation and its effect on local
Column Number: 106
government suggests that, if we do the same with microgeneration, it could have an impact on what local government is doing. We would encourage the 92 per cent. that are not doing as much as they could to follow the example of the 8 per cent.—from various political parties—that are taking a lead.

I know that the Minister, his Department and the Government have a great deal of sympathy with the issue. He has himself suggested various ways in which local authorities, and in particular local schools, could encourage take-up of microgeneration by practical examples in their own localities. I hope that, if the Minister is unable to accept the clause as drafted, he will be able to give a more positive indication of how matters can be taken forward as set out in my new clause.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): I wholeheartedly support the hon. Gentleman’s new clause 26. If anything, I fear that it does not go far enough in having firm, clear measures that will tackle the problem of promoting microgeneration. There are a range of other matters, and we shall come to them during this sitting in discussing other amendments that I have tabled. There is a clear need to address the fact that, at local authority level, where most action needs to be taken, climate change is not at the top of the agenda. That is not just an assertion, or a feeling that I have or that others experience on the basis of anecdotal evidence.

The Energy Saving Trust took a poll of more than 300 local authorities recently throughout the UK, and it discovered that two thirds of local authorities perceived a lack of leadership from central Government as a significant obstacle to taking a strategic approach to climate change. More than 90 per cent. of those local government respondents said that other issues take higher priority in their council. There must be the inclusion of a duty at least to consider microgeneration as well as other initiatives at local authority level. New clause 26 goes some way to amending that deficiency. Mr. Benton, should I move on to new clause 28 or would you like me to speak to it separately?

The Chairman: Yes, you shall speak to it. New clause 28 is grouped.

Gregory Barker:I support new clause 26, and I hope that the Minister will take the hon. Gentleman’s comments and suggestions on board.

New clause 28 supersedes new clause 22, which I tabled earlier. New clause 28 would require all local authorities to consider how microgeneration and energy efficiency can assist them in the discharge of their functions relating to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and alleviating fuel poverty. I ask colleagues to note carefully in the new clause the two words “can assist”. They are all important, as will become clear.

I shall put new clause 28 into context. The Government’s energy review pointed out that the Government are likely to undershoot their own CO2 target by 50 per cent. no less. That is serious. The
Column Number: 107
Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, whom I shadow, wrote in The Independent on 23 February that

    “it is essential that we all, industry, public sector and individuals, play our part in dealing with climate change.”

I agree. The new clause is about just that, dealing with one vital part of the public sector—local authorities.

In a survey earlier this month, the Energy Saving Trust reported that 92 per cent. of local authorities are not prioritising climate change. There is a real problem, but we can deal with that today. The new clause would do so in a light touch way, but one that I hope would produce action. It would require local authorities to consider how microgeneration and energy efficiency can assist them in achieving their climate change objectives. As a legal minimum, it would mean that the issue were at least placed on the council’s agenda. That is all. It would go before the elected members, as the trust’s report recommended. The action that follows would then be at the discretion of the local authority. There are some who might say that this is too light a touch, and I can see their point. I have a great deal of sympathy with that comment, but first we must try the lighter touch approach with local authorities, rather than the heavy hand. There is strong evidence that such an approach can work.

What are the results? Let us look at the evidence. Based on the evidence of the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, introduced by the previous Conservative Government, which similarly used a light touch to encourage local authorities to consider domestic energy efficiency, the new clause would probably have the following effect. The handful of Mertons, Wokings and Croydons comply with it anyway, so the new clause would not make much difference to them. However, we are aiming at the rest. On the HECA model, 100 or so would respond with good results; maybe 10 or 20 would be outstanding. A further 200 would respond with reasonable or quite good results and 100 would respond with poor results. We might reasonably expect that up to 300 authorities would respond with proactive policies on microgeneration and energy efficiency to deal with climate change. I would like it to be 400, but 300 would be a good start. Omit the new clause and that will not happen: it is as simple as that.

There is a bit of a roadblock, which is our old friend, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. As with other clauses we will discuss, I have to report opposition from within the Government. Not, I hasten to add, from the Minister, who is a very reasonable fellow. From what I hear from many people, his attitude to the Bill is exemplary and as far as some non-governmental organisations are concerned, he has done a great deal. However, the ODPM says that the provisions would be a new burden on local authorities that would cost money, which the Government would have to provide.

I assure the Committee that my party is very conscious of spending pledges and so-called new burdens, and I am sorry that my colleague, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is not here to endorse that, but let us look at the new clause. It would require
Column Number: 108
councils to have as an agenda item for consideration how microgeneration and energy efficiency may help. Thus, the burden is that someone types out, “Agenda item, number whatever. Climate change, microgeneration and energy efficiency”. The councillors can then discuss the matter. I dare say that a civil servant somewhere in the great Whitehall machinery has worked out the notional cost of someone doing that, but I do not honestly think that it is a genuine cost in the real world. The burden is five minutes of someone’s time. It will not even take five minutes, if they are a speedy typist—well, faster than me. It is de minimis in the extreme and I advise the DTI to accept that.

Are there any other burdens? Again, I point out the wording of the new clause. It talks of councils considering energy efficiency and microgeneration to assist them in meeting their objectives on climate change and fuel poverty. The action they take is up to each council: it is discretionary. As a champion of localism, I am a great believer in local discretion. It is not a duty; councils can take action if they consider it will assist their plans. In plain everyday English, that is the opposite of a burden. It is, to use the wording of the new clause again, an assistance in achieving their objectives. Only the ODPM could see it otherwise.

I end, therefore, by asking the Minister to take up the matter with the ODPM. We will not press the issue today, but it could be a very different story on Report on the Floor of the House. The new clause is important: action by 300 local authorities should not be missed. It is a light touch mechanism and it really is the least we can do.

4.15 pm

Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): I am pleased to support new clauses 26 and 28. I hope that the Minister will listen to the tone and tenor of the debate and be able, if not to endorse the new clauses—everyone seems to be privy to the Minister’s views before I am on this occasion—at least to give a clear indication that he will respond sympathetically.

I have a lot of sympathy with what the Bill’s promoter said. As someone who has been down the path before, I know that he is walking on eggshells trying to encourage the Government to be as radical as possible while not alienating the few friends he has on this. As a result, he cannot vent his frustration as he might want to do about the slow pace at which concessions are wrung out of the Government. It is time for another one, and he deserves that, so the Minister should give him some aid and comfort.

I want to speak about new clause 28, to which the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) spoke. The cause is a good one and, as he said, he is applying a light touch in his proposals. Indeed, as he may have said, the touch may be too light, but it is about as radical as we can hope to get past the Government at the moment—and it may be too radical even for that.

I spent the earlier part of today responding in detail to the consultation document of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on a code of sustainable
Column Number: 109
homes. I hope that it will not be out of order to draw the Committee’s attention to what a timid document it is. That, too, is an example of a light touch and the avoidance of rules and regulations in favour of gaining consent and voluntary action. Consent and voluntary action are difficult to achieve from commercial builders who must make a profit and justify their operations to their shareholders. The reality is that neither the code of sustainable homes nor the light touch regulation that we are discussing are likely to be effective unless regulations are brought into effect, building is brought under control and there is some system for examining the way in which the legislation is implemented. In other words, it should be monitored and checked.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle for mentioning the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, which he said was introduced under a Conservative Government. It was in fact introduced by my Liberal Democrat colleague who is now Baroness Maddock in the other place. I recall that the Committee stage of that Bill was also fraught with difficulty in persuading the Government of the day to move forward. Baroness Maddock would certainly concede that the legislation could have been stronger and it would have been stronger but for the resistance of the Government of the day.

Now that time has moved on and climate change is being taken seriously, apparently by the Prime Minister and certainly by the Minister here today, I hope that the Government will show some real signs of determination to make progress. To do so, we need legislation, not just codes of practice, that places binding obligations on developers and builders about what they should do when they construct, alter or extend property. We need a system to ensure that when those regulations are in place they are monitored to ensure that they are implemented properly.

New clauses 26 and 28 are tentative moves in that direction and I hope strongly that the Minister will take the hint from the drift of the discussion today and concede that they should be added to the Bill.

Gregory Barker: There is one small tail-end Charlie to this group of amendments. You kindly used your discretion, Mr. Benton, to add amendment (a) to the selection of amendments for discussion. It would amend new clause 34, which fulfils the Minister’s agreement to reintroduce my parish councils clause, and yet again I find myself thanking him for taking that on board. However, I have but one point to make.

ODPM officials, when drafting the clause, omitted to include grant or loan making as a power for parish councils, as in my original clause. In fact, their new clause, which I understood from the Minister was supposed to mirror my original clause but with more technical proficiency, specifically prevents parish councils from having that. I believe that officials have agreed to reconsider the provision. My amendment would provide for it, allowing parish councils the discretion to make small grants or loans, perhaps to help a local farmer or a community enterprise start a biomass scheme. We are talking only about small, discretionary projects. Of course, the power would be
Column Number: 110
subject to proper financial procedures, and with that procedural safeguard I hope that the amendment will be accepted.

Contents Continue
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 1 March 2006