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Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, I welcome this document which I was reading this morning. I declare an interest in having used a lot of environmental data, as chairman of an environmental company and of an NGOACOPSand as an academic.
I believe that the UK scientific and technological world in environmental work is second to none. Indeed, part of the reason for that is because environmental data are widely available in the UK. The position is considerably better than in some countries in Europe. So my first point is whether the kind of policy that is set out in this document will be the same in other European countries. In fact, it would be very interesting to have an independent review of the availability of the environmental data in the UK in comparison with other European countries.
My second point relates to a specific element of this document. It contains a clause which refers to a point made earlier about transparency of communications within the public authorities providing the data. One of the most important points to understand in an organisation producing data is how the data are calculated. These are internal calculations and are more transparent in the UK than elsewhere, but it should still be reasonable to ask how, for example, certain levels of pollution are calculated or, indeed, how wind speeds were calculated. Sometimes there is frustration about that level of transparency.
My third point also comes back to the points made earlier about the question of costs. Having been the chief executive of a government agency, which had to make a profit, I know a little about that and the question of the profit. Progressive views in the UK have meant that the charges made by many government agencies in the UK are lower than those of our European colleagues. That is a difficulty.
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However, there is an issue. I gather from the document that this rather ticklish area, which in the past may have been looked at by the DTI through its intellectual property organisation or by the Treasury which has also produced many documents on the levels of profitability of government agencies, will now be in the hands of the Information Commissioner. How will that person interact with these other government bodies and will there be some more uniform policy? At the moment the latest word that I have seen comes from the Treasury.
What will be the staff of the Information Commissioner? He will be an important person running an important body. Will he or she have scientific staff and how will they work with these other government agencies? The blanket statement that "intellectual property will be preserved" covers a broad area and a lot of people will want to pick at that. Is that going to be in the hands of the DTI or will it be in the hands of the Information Commissioner? Perhaps that point could be established.
My final point is about the curious anomaly that environmental data are often made available, particularly through the government research councils, to researchers. But for some reasonperhaps just for economyit is difficult to make those data available to undergraduates and students. Therefore, the availability of the environmental data to the educational world also needs to be considered.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am grateful for the general support for these regulations. I shall attempt to answer the questions raised. In the discussion of the dissemination and availability of information the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, raised the issue of public records and in particular of e-mails. Public recordsthis also relates to some of the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, about keeping public recordsmust be kept and not destroyed. That would include those on e-mail.
The only destruction permissible would in any case be in the context of a document management process, including e-mail, that would have had to have been stated. That would have to include requirements to archive public records; it would also set out in what circumstances and timescale e-mails could be destroyed. That would not include the destruction of original records, of base data on which decisions were based or other information about decisions that had been made. So although episodic e-mails may be wiped out every three months, or even every three days, those on which decisions are based would be required to be kept, just as normal written documents would be.
On charging and how it is controlled, which the noble Lord also raised, the Information Commissioner would consider how to do that, advising public authorities where he thinks their charging process unreasonable. The draft guidance will be subject to consultation. In the circumstances described by the noble Lord, where someone goes in to photocopy something the actual cost will be charged. There are exceptions to that only where
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the organisation itself charges for that information and its finances are based on its method of charging.
On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, about public records and biodiversity recording in particular, the regulations cover organisations only so far as they fulfil public functions or are under the control of public authorities. They therefore do not extend to voluntary groups or individuals who record biodiversity information. Voluntary groups will therefore not be covered, but recording centres and organisations who are legally responsible for collecting information will be covered. However, there will be no requirement on them to issue information that is currently protected. Exceptions may be used to withhold information, such as the habitat of a rare species of bird, which we would not want to be in the public arena.
The recording centres themselves and the National Biodiversity Network, to which the noble Baroness referred, aim to disseminate information wherever possible in any case, and are committed to doing that responsibly, withholding information only where it is in the public interest to do so. The regulations will not make a significant difference to that.
The noble Baroness asked which Acts of Parliament are exempt. No Acts of Parliament as such are exempt; Regulation 5(b) overrides all other legislation; but the other regulations provide some exceptions, including those for national security purposes. The phrases used are those used in other legislation concerning national security and commercially sensitive information.
My noble friend Lord Hunt asked what happens in other EU countries. Other EU countries are also required to transpose the directive and most of them individually and all of them collectively through the EU are subscribers to the convention. Therefore, parallel arrangements will have to be set up in other EU countries, although I accept that some of them are starting from some way back concerning current availability of information.
My noble friend and the noble Baroness also asked about resources and funding and the availability of information being limited by a lack of funding. There are no funding implications of the regulations because we intend to inculcate a culture change in the approach to how information that is there should be made available. That ought to be part of the normal process of the bodies' operations. The active dissemination of information should also be included, which may be a function that some public authorities do not currently carry out, but we assume that that can be done within existing budgets unless any particular problems arise.
The whole point of the regulations is that the normal processes should subsume the need to make information available and accessible. If we can achieve that, other efficiencies will often emerge within public authorities in any case.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
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Lord Whitty rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 10 November be approved [34th Report from the Joint Committee, Session 200304].
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft order be approved. It places an obligation on energy and gas suppliers to achieve targets for the promotion of improvements in household energy efficiency. Suppliers meet those targets by encouraging and assisting their household consumers to take up energy efficiency measures. Through the more efficient use of energy, consumers will be able to reduce fuel costs or enjoy greater comfort without increased costs.
The order sets the basis for the next phase of the energy efficiency commitment (EEC) and is an important part of the general approach to the Government's energy efficiency targets, set out in the energy efficiency action plan. The obligation will run from 2005 to 2008 and will build on the current, successful three-year commitment, which ends in March next year.
We have held extensive informal consultations with a wide range of stakeholders, and a formal consultation document was issued in May. The main aim of the next stage of the EEC is to make a significant contribution to the targets under our climate-change programme. We estimate that the EEC for 200508 will achieve carbon savings of around 0.7 million tonnes of carbon a year by 2010, the first target year. It will also give particular help to low-income consumers, who spend a larger proportion of their income on energy, by requiring suppliers to achieve at least 50 per cent of their energy savings in households in receipt of income support, disability benefits or tax or pension credits. That will also have the added benefit of contributing to the alleviation of fuel poverty, which is part of a wider action plan issued in November.
The order sets out an overall obligation on electricity and gas suppliers of 130 fuel-standardised lifetime-discounted terawatt hours of energy savings. It is a challenging target, at about twice the level of the current EEC, but it is achievable and will help to achieve our wider targets.
We recognise the problem of overcoming householder apathy and creating demand for energy efficient products. We are considering ways to promote stronger consumer demand, including campaigns by key players such as the Energy Saving Trust. We have recently given the trust an extra £3 million to promote energy efficiency.
The cost of meeting the obligation will fall on suppliers rather than consumers. However, we expect that, even if they were to pass costs on in full to their customers, they would amount to no more than an average of around £9 a year for the three years of the programmeabout 20p a week. In any case, suppliers may absorb some of the costs themselves. Those costs are outweighed by a range of direct and indirect benefits. We expect the average ongoing financial
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benefit for consumers, in their bills, to be over £15 a year for the lifetime of the measures, which in some cases could be up to 40 years. In addition, there are wider environmental and social benefits.
Ofgem is responsible for the administration of the commitment. The order provides the framework for Ofgem to set the targets. Ofgem will also be responsible for enforcement. The apportionment of the overall target between individual suppliers will be on the basis of their customer numbers. As we do not wish to raise barriers to smaller suppliers entering the market, the order exempts those with fewer than 50,000 customers.
We are keen to encourage in each sector the development of the best new energy efficient technologies. We also support the development of energy services as a potentially effective means of improving energy efficiency. The order, therefore, provides incentives for innovative products, such as micro-CHP and energy service action. The order also gives further flexibility to suppliers by allowing them to trade with each other all or part of their energy efficiency targets.
We intend to monitor the continuing development of the EEC. Ofgem is required to report annually, and we are committed to extending the commitment beyond this phase, from 2008 to 2011. We will review the target before then. I hope that the House will accept the importance and desirability of the order and vote to support it.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 10 November be approved [34th Report from the Joint Committee, Session 200304].(Lord Whitty.)
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