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The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, was kind enough to give me some advance warning of the point he wished to raise. I therefore have some detailed responses. If they are not sufficient, I will follow them up. The noble Lord asked what is the point of setting targets for gas and electricity suppliers to help families in fuel poverty if they are denied information about who they are. He also asked what Defra is doing to find people in the priority group. Under the CERT, energy suppliers will be required to direct at least 40 per cent of carbon savings to a priority group of low-income and elderly consumers. They are not necessarily the sameI made that point about the over-70sbut nevertheless a large element of the low-income target group is the over-70s. The priority group is defined as those in receipt of certain income-related or disability benefits, tax credits or pension credit, as well as those aged 70 or over. Suppliers may use a variety of methods to identify that group of customers. They include setting out the priority group criteria in
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Although it was said in jest, there was a serious point behind what the noble Lord said at the end of his speech. I take his point because what has happened with the recent information lapses has been nothing short of a disgrace and complete lapse in good standards in public administration. But there are serious issues about individual names, addresses and personal information. This winter, for example, we are going to support a mail shot to 250,000 pension credit recipients offering free insulation and help to install central heating. We want to look at these options before we consider fully sharing the personal data of millions of people, most of whom will not be fuel poor or eligible for assistance. We are continuing our large-scale Keep Warm Well campaign, aimed at vulnerable households in England, which gives information on the health benefits of keeping warm in winter and details of the grants and benefits available. That brings together cross-government communications that are, I hope, co-ordinated and accessible.
The noble Lord was quite right when he asked the question, and gave the answer, about Warm Front savings contributing to the 40 per cent target, which is surely impossible. As he said, the figures in the note to the statutory instrument do not take that into account. In the consultation proposals on how it would administer the CERT, the regulator, Ofgem, made it clear that where a supplier undertakes action in conjunction with the government programme, there should be no double counting of carbon savings. Ofgem will shortly issue its supplier guidance on the carbon emissions reduction target, which will set out the criteria for ensuring additionality. We are obviously very keen to encourage interaction, where possible, between the CERT, Warm Front and other government programmes, so that they support the arrangements between the CERT energy suppliers and the Warm Front scheme manager as private companies to maximise the benefit to vulnerable people.
The noble Lord asked what Defra expected a householder on the Warm Front scheme to do about microgeneration. Although Warm Front does not currently offer microgeneration technology as part of a portfolio of measures, it can provide, and has mechanisms for assessing, alternative technologies that could be brought into the scheme. In this light, Warm Front is undertaking a pilot exercise of solar-thermal systems, which will assess whether that
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That gives rise to another question, which the noble Lord did not touch on but alluded to. It is generally known that those in some of the severest fuel poverty in the country pay more for their electricity and gas than the rest of us because they are still on coin meters. There is no doubt that that is a massive attack on the marginal cost of electricity. That issue is not part of this, but it will have to be dealt with in due course because there must be fairness between one section of society and another. There is no sense in targeting low-income, fuel-poor people with all these schemes but penalising them because they are still on coin-operated meters, which is what the utilities do. That issue is not in my brief, but I offer it from my experience as a constituency Member of Parliament. It is a paradox because the Government can be accused of promoting schemes to assist those people when other measures could be taken to help them directly with the cost of electricity. The hassle factor and the upfront costs of investing even in such things as energy-saving bulbs are what put people off.
There is another major issue. We currently have no proposals in legislation to allow energy suppliers to have the names and addresses of people on various benefits. That is not part of the operation. It might have been thought a good idea to do it that way around, but it is not being done that way. We must find other ways of doing it and must find out whether we can be successful. Before any Government ever submitted such a proposal, they would have to win acceptance in both Houses, let alone among the public, of what would, in effect, be a massive and intrusive measure that would require information that is got for one purpose to be given to the private sector for another. You would have to have a very good case that you had tried every other conceivable, reasonable way of targeting those people for their own benefit to lower their bills and their carbon footprint, thereby assisting us to meet our national targets. I am not saying that that is not somewhere down the road, but it is certainly not on the agenda at present. It might have been thought to be on the agenda in the past, but it is not a route. As the noble Lord will appreciate, given his former role, passing information about benefit claimants, let alone tax credit claimants, to the private sector would be highly sensitive, and is not a route that we will use at present. I am not saying that it will be ruled out in future, however.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: The noble Lord did not comment on the pilot scheme, of which I gave some details. Last year, 250,000 people were involved, and there was a proposal that it should be redone for 250,000 people this year. The essential part is that the Department for Work and Pensions has the names
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Lord Rooker: That is exactly so, and I did answer that. This winter, the Government are just about to send a mail shot to 250,000 pension credit recipients. We will send out the information as regards central heating and insulation, but we need to know the results of that before we can go further. That is the answer: the Government are sending out the information from the suppliers because we hold the information. It is quite legitimate for the Government to target because that is the information we have. We know who the pension credit recipients are. As I said, we are about to do that this winter. We need to test the process to see what the value, the results and the benefits are of doing it that way around, so we are doing that.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: I am sorry, but the noble Lord speaks rather fast and it is not always possible to follow him exactly. I apologise if I suggested that he did not deal with that, but there has already been one pilot scheme last year. I am told by the Energy Retail Association and by those who participated that the result was regarded as a success. It may be that the Government are thinking that they may need another pilot in perhaps a district. If that is happening, it will take some time. Three years starts next April. Presumably, this will all count towards the 40 per cent target. I just do not see these things adding up or how they hang together.
The noble Lord reeled off a long list of other initiatives, and one is getting the impression of a system which will simply collapse under the weight of its own bureaucracy. Yet, in the mean time, we wait for what seems to be the most hopeful approach on this, which is what the first pilot has already successfully achieved.
Lord Rooker: All that I can say is that the first pilot was obviously done under the other scheme. This pilot is being done under this scheme. I freely admit that the Government work incredibly slowly. That is my experience of the past 10 and a half years. You get an idea and you imagine something happening, but three or four years later, you think, Where are we?. The money does not flow through the system very fast, except to Northern Rockwhich I should not have said! Once Ministers allocate expenditure, it is an incredibly long time before you see the flow through the system and the output. I can only apologise to the noble Lord. Frankly, we are now targeting this group for pension credit for this period, and it is probably not the same group as last time. But it is a good lesson to pilot things before letting millions go. The lesson of
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Lord Jenkin of Roding: I am grateful and I acknowledge that. I can also sympathise with the noble Lord, having been, if not in exactly the same position, at any rate in what was the same department some years ago, and these things do take time. But, in the mean time, we have a scheme starting under the order on 1 April. The 40 per cent obligation starts then. However, until these pilots have been properly appraised and it has been decided how to roll them out, British Gas will have to go on playing municipal hide and seek. That does not seem very satisfactory. The fact that the noble Lords explanatory memorandum did not have a single word to say about this fills me with some dismay. It gives the impression that Defra either does not know about it or, if it does know about it, does not care. That might be an unfair judgment, but anyone reading 79 pages of that explanatory memorandum is likely to draw that conclusion.
Lord Rooker: If I remember rightly from one of the notes that I read, Ofgem is waiting for this order to become law to get cracking on the advice to the suppliers. I hope we will not delay the order because Ofgem is waiting to issue its guidance to suppliers about how they will be measured and tested, as there will be a challenge at the end of it.
The pilot schemethis is probably more bad news for the noble Lord, but I want to be as open as possibleis a general invitation to reach fuel-poor consumers. It is not necessarily a CERT invitation, but it is the same targeting. We use government information on people whom we knowin this case, the 250,000 on pension creditto send out the information on the schemes for insulation and central heating. Once the order is passed, Ofgem will run the scheme, so the pressure is on Ofgem. I realise it is slow and the 40 per cent target starts from 1 April. The other scheme folds and the new scheme starts. I accept that three years is not a long time. This time next year, looking at the review of the first year, it will be fair to ask: are we on a trajectory that will deliver? I am not in a position to say at the moment. I just hope we are.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: I am grateful for that information and for the noble Lords acknowledgement that there are considerable problems. I will not ask him to deal with this now, but perhaps he would be kind enough to write to me explaining which of the many other schemes that he mentioned in his reply will enable the supplier industries to count them towards their 40 per cent. He quite rightly saidI expected it was sothat the savings from the past Warm Front expenditure do not count. So be it. What about future Warm Front expenditure? What about other programmes
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Lord Woolmer of Leeds: Many fuel-poor people do not respond very easily to mailshots. The Minister and I know from previous experience that a knock on the door and speaking face to face with someone who really understand the situation is always more likely to produce results. Is it possible for the fuel companies to fund staff employed by the government agencies so that those agencies with the information on fuel poverty could then knock on the doors? They would know which doors to knock on. Would it be possible under this or other schemes for fuel companies to pay for staff who would be employed by the government agenciesnot by the fuel companiesand for that to count towards their achievement of the target? It seems that that is more likely over time to avoid a situation in which leaflets are sent out encouraging people to apply or to respond but the very poorest and those most at risk do not take up the opportunity. That is the tragedy for those whom we are talking about.
Lord Rooker: I shall certainly take some advice on that. I am more than happy to write to the noble Lords who have participated in the debate. I am not sure how they will operate with the companies or whether that will be dependent on waiting for the Ofgem programme once the order has been passed. As soon as I can get some information I shall write to the noble Lord.
The issue of the other schemes is quite important: what can be counted and how they go about trying to find the information, as I said, through social housing landlords and others. To my noble friend I say that I will get an answer, but I am not sure. In the past couple of years, I have come across schemes where there has been incredible difficulty, even within government, of one department using another departments personal information to facilitate what is public-good policy, simply because of data protection. There is an examplenothing to do with fuel and energywhere only government departments were involved, but the information had not been given for the original purpose. It is incredibly difficult and yet it seems so obvious.
On the other hand, the objective is to try to find these people and target them. You may know that they are poor in a financial sense, but they may not be in fuel poverty. We do not know how people spend their money. People do not take kindly to someone knocking on their door and saying, Weve discovered that youre poor and weve come to help. The last thing people need to be told is that they live in a slum or that they are poor. One has to be incredibly sensitive when dealing with this, as my noble friend will be aware. His suggestion about those who have the information being seconded or paid by those who need the information to deliver this public-good policy seems so sensible. I shall certainly get information on that and write to noble Lords.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: I cannot resist passing on the three famous untruths: first, The cheque is in the post; secondly, Of course I will still love you in the morning; and thirdly, Im from the Government and Im here to help.
Before I turn to the substance of the order, a draft of which was laid before the House on 4 December and which is well known to noble Lords, I shall set out the Governments position on decommissioning more generally, which I hope the Committee will find helpful. Decommissioning is a matter of considerable public importance and it has played an essential role in achieving political progress in Northern Ireland. It is vital that we ensure it can continue so that paramilitary weapons can be put beyond use. In September 2005, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning reported that it and independent witnesses had determined that the Provisional IRA has,
That position has been supported by subsequent reports by the International Monitoring Commission, which have illustrated the progress made by this organisation. At one point, the IMC considered the Provisional IRA to be the most sophisticated and potentially most dangerous of the terrorist groups in Northern Ireland. In contrast, in April 2007, the International Monitoring Commission reported that the Provisional IRA was firmly committed to a political path. None of us can deny the progress that has been made and the part that decommissioning has played in that. We now want to see a determined effort from other paramilitary organisations, including loyalists.
We have seen some progress over the past year with statements by the UVF and UDA acknowledging that the war is over and calling on all active service units to stand down. However, the Secretary of State was right to say at the time that,
I turn to what the order does. The current amnesty period identified in the non-statutory decommissioning scheme is due to end on 20 February this year. This order would extend that deadline for a further year to 14 February 2009. The amnesty period is the time during which firearms, ammunition and explosives can be decommissioned in accordance with the scheme. The amnesty provides immunity from prosecution for the offences set out in the schedule to the 1997 Act; offences that might be committed during the decommissioning process. Most such offences relate to the possession of weapons, but others may stem from a persons participation in decommissioning, not necessarily centred on the weapons involved but on the behaviour that may accompany participation, such as the withholding of information or making arrangements with terrorists.
Section 2 of the 1997 Act, as amended by the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning (Amendment) Act 2002 and the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006, requires that a scheme must identify the amnesty period, and that it must end before 27 February 2010, unless the Secretary of State by order appoints a later day. The purpose of the order before the House is to extend that period for a further year
The extension of the decommissioning amnesty period had become something of an annual event. I think this is the third one I have brought to the House. However, the amnesty will not and should not continue indefinitely. The Independent International Commission on Decommissionings last report confirmed its assessment made in September 2005 that the Provisional IRA had met its commitment to put all its arms beyond use in a manner called for by the legislationan assessment that it has since confirmed.
The Independent International Commission on Decommissionings report also observed that the arms of loyalist paramilitary groups, as well as that of other paramilitary organisations, remained to be addressed. Its January 2006 report emphasised the concentration on loyalist paramilitary groups and the desire to attempt to engage with them in the pursuit of their mandate. We are introducing this order because the Government are committed to securing the decommissioning of all paramilitary weapons, and because in our judgment it would be premature to close off this route to achieving that objective. To that end, discussions continue to secure decommissioning proposals with the UPRG. Those discussions have included representatives from the UDA. The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning believes that this represents a willingness to address the issue of arms.
It is important to emphasise that work with these groups is ongoing with a view to helping them to make the transition from conflict to peace and to bring about their desire to transform not only themselves but their communities. We must acknowledge the UVF statement of 3 May 2007 and the progress that may produce. However, the statement needs to be supported by clear and visible action, including decommissioning and, to that end, continuing contact between the UVF and the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. Decommissioning is a crucial feature
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It is essential that we build on the progress already made by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning next year. In order to achieve that, it is essential that we continue to provide the statutory framework necessary to make decommissioning a reality. This order does exactly that. Its extension for one year is a measured and prudent response to the current situation. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 (Amnesty Period) Order 2008. 6th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.(Lord Rooker.)
Lord Trimble: I thank the Minister for his comments about my presence here. I reassure him about this; I carry with me the apologies of my noble friend Lord Glentoran, who is otherwise engaged. I am merely spelling for him on this occasion. One should not read too much into that.
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