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The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, is there any evidence that it is not at the moment?

Earl Howe: Yes, my Lords, there is. Under the local authority system, as I have already indicated, the standards of enforcement were extremely variable, to put it at its mildest.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked about the funding of meat inspection services in other member states. All member states are required to charge for meat inspection in accordance with Community rules. They are required to charge at least the minimum charge laid down in Directive 93/118 EEC. The directive also lays down a standard charge below which subsidisation is illegal. In negotiations on the directive in 1993, several member states—Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark—were anxious to have provision to recover full costs and the directive was amended to permit full recovery of administrative costs. Previously there was a flat rate administrative charge which did not necessarily reflect the full cost.

Lord Carter: My Lords, the question I asked was, who pays? I understand there are regulations on the

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level of costs; but as I understand it, in France and Ireland for example, although these charges meet the standard, they are met by the taxpayer not by the farms or the abattoirs.

Earl Howe: My Lords, the trouble is that there is no single document which describes the arrangements in other member states. Of course we have clear ideas about the overall structures, if not always the day-to-day arrangements. Our perceptions are borne out to a large extent by two Meat and Livestock Commission reports last year. The directive firmly requires meat inspection to be under the control of veterinarians who may be assisted by what are deemed auxiliaries, or meat inspectors as we know them. All member states involve vets fully in the meat inspection process. The majority of them also use meat inspectors to a greater or less degree.

My noble friend Lord Willoughby suggested that greater through-put in slaughterhouses would mean greater contamination. I would say to him that greater through-put does not mean greater contamination. The whole point of veterinary inspection is to make sure that the animals are in a fit condition to be slaughtered and that there is proper control of hygiene and, indeed, welfare. It is the hygiene control which prevents faecal contamination of carcasses; that is to say, the spread of pathogens.

The noble Lord, Lord Geraint, was concerned about consultation with the industry about the operations manual. The MHS has undertaken to review the operations manual with the industry organisations in the autumn. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, said that the Government should have looked at standardising local authority procedures. This was looked at as part of the 1992 review, which preceded the decision to set up the Meat Hygiene Service. But, as he will know, local authorities are autonomous. The Government cannot direct them to standardise procedures and experience shows that many local authorities have disregarded the SVS's advice in the past. When all is said and done, there is little that we in the Government can do about that short of setting up a system, as we have done.

It has been suggested that the Government's decision to set up the MHS was to satisfy the ambitions of a few self-seeking officials in the Ministry. I have had the privilege of being a Minister in MAFF for three years now and it is absolutely clear to me that that is not the case. There were a number of important reasons behind the decision, which I shall summarise. These were to meet the long-standing requests of a majority of representative organisations in the meat industry; to improve the service offered to consumers, retailers and the meat trade generally; to maximise efficiency and to minimise costs; to improve accountability to Parliament, to the public and to the industry which pays the charges; and to satisfy the requirements of our trading partners and safeguard our meat exports worth almost £1 billion in 1994. Those are ambitious objectives. It is not possible to judge the success of the MHS today when it has only been in operation for 18 days. However, I draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that despite their concern about charges all but one of the industry's representative organisations continue to support the concept of a single national Meat Hygiene Service.

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I urge your Lordships to take full account of the views of the industry as a whole, not just of the individuals who attracted the most publicity. I hope that in the light of the explanation I have given the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and my noble friend will feel sufficiently reassured about the Meat Hygiene Service to withdraw their respective Motions. I, of course, stand ready to follow up with them and with other noble Lords any queries raised in this debate which remain unanswered.

6.6 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. When I heard from all around the House the description of this costly, Stalinist, centralised, bureaucratic organisation, I began to think that perhaps I should have put down a litany instead of a Prayer. I remind the Minister that all the organisations he referred to were in principle—as I said in my opening remarks—in favour of the MHS. Every one of them, without exception, has referred to the argument about excessive costs.

I shall be extremely brief in winding up. I found the Minister's comments about costs rather airy-fairy as regards winners and losers. I remind him that it has never been statistically proved that the swings equal the roundabouts. We shall have to watch this matter carefully. Some of the cost increases to which I, the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and others have referred have serious implications for small businesses. Virtually every speaker referred to the matter of costs. The noble Earl can be sure that we shall be giving this matter serious consideration as the organisation develops. As regards a seamless robe of efficiency, the fact is there are still three agencies involved: the State Veterinary Service, the Meat Hygiene Service and the local authorities. The upgrading of abattoirs is required by the European Union anyway. That has nothing to do with the MHS and the point is not relevant in that respect.

The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, referred to teething troubles. When one considers the 40 per cent. increase in costs that some slaughterhouses are having to bear, I would only say that we are talking about some quango and some teeth! Of course the large slaughterhouses support the measure because they can see the smaller ones going out of business. We also understand why the veterinary profession supports the idea.

I am aware of the conventions of the House as regards statutory instruments. I put down the Prayer to make sure that we had a good debate. I believe we have had a good debate. I believe the MHS and the government department have now been warned that we are giving this matter serious consideration to make sure that costs are controlled and that the extra layer of bureaucracy produces the reduction in food poisoning which I believe the noble Earl referred to as one of the targets. We shall be giving that matter close consideration. However, in line with the conventions of the House, it is with some reluctance that I withdraw the Motion. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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Home Energy Conservation Bill

6.8 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. As the Long Title states, the Bill is to provide for the drawing up of local energy conservation reports relating to residential accommodation. I am reminded of two short but significant facts. The first is that domestic energy use accounts for somewhere between one-quarter and one-third of the nation's CO 2 emissions. The second is that in assessing whether a house is fit for human habitation as a basis for grants or for legal action, a number of criteria are considered, but those criteria do not include energy efficiency.

We know the sorry figures of the house condition surveys. Some 1.5 million dwellings are unfit and more than 13 per cent. of the housing stock in England is in need of urgent repair. But how many more may be inefficient in their use of energy? It is important, at many levels and for many people, to know this information. It is important if you have asthma or are affected by air pollution. The Government acknowledge that in the second year report, This Common Inheritance, which states:

    "Using energy efficiently is the quickest and most cost-effective way of reducing CO 2 emissions".

If you are one of the eight million "fuel poor" struggling to heat your home, it is important to have that information. If you see your heat literally disappearing not out of, but through, your windows and your walls and roof, it is important. Often it is those with the lowest means who have the most expensive forms of heating. It is important if your health is vulnerable. Suffering hypothermia in one's own home is a tragedy for the individual and a scandal for society. I join with those who say that the most important contributions to health are environmental factors.

It is not surprising that the Bill attracted such all-party support in another place and outside Parliament. More than 700 local authorities are known to have passed supportive resolutions. Voluntary organisations and interest groups ranging from Friends of the Earth to the Construction Industry Council, from Age Concern to the RSPB, and from MENCAP to the Trades Union Congress have also expressed support.

Your Lordships may have heard from the local authority associations. Local authorities will be at the heart of the application of the Bill. The associations of district councils, county councils and metropolitan authorities wholeheartedly support the principle of the Bill and believe that, as now drafted, it provides,

    "a workable and practicable model".

They say:

    "An understanding of need will drive future energy conservation policy and most effectively target those resources available for energy efficiency works. Support for the principle is apparent also from the majority of individual councils which uphold the principle of sustainability and moves to reduce global warming, emissions to atmosphere and fuel poverty. They believe also that they are best placed to collect this information and assist in its productive use".

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Before turning to the detail of the Bill, I must pay tribute to the Members of all parties who supported the Bill in another place and to those Members who introduced predecessor Bills, including the honourable Members for Wyre and Dundee East, the honourable Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke North, and in particular my honourable friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed whose Energy Conservation Bill is a very close relation of this Bill. Finally, I should like to pay tribute to my honourable friend the Member for Christchurch who, when she came first in the ballot for Private Member's Bills in another place, received more letters from individuals in support of this issue than all others put together and who piloted the Bill through another place. I hope that I do both the Bill and my honourable friend justice.

I turn now to the detail of the Bill. It applies to England and Wales, to Scotland and to Northern Ireland where the Housing Executive will be the energy conservation authority. Each authority has a duty to prepare a report whose contents are listed in Clause 2 of the Bill. Clause 2(2) provides that the report is to set out energy conservation matters which the authority regards as practicable, cost effective and likely to result in significant improvement in the energy efficiency of the residential stock in its area. Energy conservation measures are defined widely to include advice and information as well as other matters.

Clause 2(3) sets out what the report must include, and Clause 2(4) sets out matters which may be included if the energy conservation authority considers that to be appropriate. Those matters may include assessment of the number of jobs which may result from the implementation of the measures. Many of your Lordships have argued that promoting better energy efficiency will result in the creation of jobs.

The Bill does not provide for an audit of individual buildings. Rather, it provides for a survey of types of housing. I was surprised to learn that there is a limited number of types of housing. Therefore, information about the materials used can readily be made available.

Nor does the Bill set out how the information should be obtained. Your Lordships may be aware that already a number of authorities use imaginative methods to assess energy efficiency in their areas. Those include thermal imaging by means of aerial photography. I suppose that that is the modern technical equivalent of observing snow on roofs. Authorities as far apart as Sutton, Belfast, Nottingham and Westminster—to cover both the geographical and political spectrum—have used that method. I understand that it has attracted a great deal of interest because individuals can look at the photographs and identify their own houses.

Clauses 3 and 4 of the Bill set out the duties of the Secretary of State, including the guidance that he is to give. The guidance will deal with targets for savings. Those targets are not set out on the face of the Bill in order to allow for a degree of flexibility.

I believe that there was originally some anxiety that setting targets would be toughest on the authorities which had to date been most energetic and had achieved most in securing energy efficiency savings in their own areas. However, it was not those authorities which

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protested. They understood how much more there was to do and that the work done to date was confined to their own stock and this Bill applies to all of the housing stock. Therefore, it is for the Secretary of State to give guidance as to what improvements may be regarded as "significant" rather than setting a numerical target. Having received the report from the energy conservation authority the Secretary of State shall, under Clause 3(2), give the authority a timetable for its work and may himself take steps to achieve certain measures.

To quote my honourable friend the Member for Christchurch, this is not a Bill which creates a "thermal thought police". Indeed, Clause 6 firmly limits the powers given to energy conservation authorities.

This is an apparently modest little Bill, but it is of enormous importance because of its place in setting an energy conservation strategy for the nation. It is a short Bill, but your Lordships will be aware that it is always much harder to be succinct than to go on at some length. I commend the Bill to the House for its brevity, but in particular for its quality. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Hamwee.)

6.18 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords—

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