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[Amendment No. 28 not moved.]

Lord Jenkin of Roding moved Amendment No. 29:

29: After Clause 89, insert the following new Clause—

“Power to amend licence conditions etc: carbon dioxide emission targets and fuel poverty

(1) The Secretary of State may modify—

(a) a condition of a particular electricity supply licence under section 6(1)(d) of the Electricity Act 1989 (c. 29);

(b) the standard conditions incorporated in licences under those provisions by virtue of section 8A of that Act;

(c) a condition of a particular gas supply licence under section 7A of the Gas Act 1986 (c. 44);

(d) the standard conditions incorporated in licences under those provisions by virtue of section 8 of that Act;

(e) a document maintained in accordance with the conditions of licences under section 6(1) of the Electricity Act 1989 or section 7 or 7A of the Gas Act 1986, or an agreement that gives effect to a document so maintained.

(2) The Secretary of State may exercise the power in subsection (1) for the purpose of requiring the holder of a licence to promote measures, in respect of the group of customers defined in subsection (4), pursuant to any order made under Part 1 of the Gas Act or Part 1 of the Electricity Act 1989 that imposes an obligation on suppliers to achieve carbon dioxide emission reduction targets.

(3) Modifications made by virtue of subsection (1) may include—

(a) provision about the protection of consumers;

(b) provision requiring the holder of the licence to enter (or refrain from entering) into an agreement of a specified kind, or with a specified person;

(c) provision specifying, or enabling the determination of, a date from which a modification is to take effect.

(4) In subsection (2) “the group of customers” means customers who are—

(a) in receipt of income or disability benefits,

(b) in receipt of tax or pension credits, or

(c) aged 70 or over.

(5) The Secretary of State shall, within 6 months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, lay before Parliament regulations making provision for the provision of information to licence holders enabling them to identify those of their customers who fall within the group defined in subsection (4), and provision about the use, sharing and protection of that information.

(6) Regulations under subsection (5) shall make provision in relation to matters including, but not limited to—

(a) disclosure to licence holders of specified information,

(b) conditions relating to the security of information disclosed,

(c) conditions relating to the use and sharing of such information.

(7) Regulations under subsection (5) shall be made by statutory instrument and shall be subject to affirmative resolution of each House of Parliament.”

The noble Lord said: My Lords, noble Lords who took part in the Grand Committee stage of the Bill will recognise that this amendment, which deals with

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issues such as fuel poverty, the carbon emissions reduction targets and the problem of data sharing, is in exactly the same terms as the amendment I tabled in Grand Committee. The reason for that is that it proved quite difficult to find an amendment to the Bill that was within its Long Title and so could be tabled and debated. I have previously expressed my gratitude to the officials in the Public Bill Office for their help in enabling this to be done. However, it would have been a little difficult to ask them to do it again for a different amendment, when all I am asking here is for the Government to come forward with more information about what is going to happen under the programme that they have announced.

Quite a lot has happened since we debated that amendment last July; not least, the Government’s latest concordat with the industry. We had the amendment to the Pensions Bill, debated on 17 July, which dealt with the small number of the neediest pensioners who are entitled to pension credit. There was some sort of undertaking about data sharing. Then there was the letter following that from the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, to the noble Lord, Lord Mogg, on 30 July, which sought to explain how this was going to be approached. We then had the full and important statements of the Government’s policy in their response to the Business and Enterprise Select Committee in another place earlier this month. Finally, we have had the report of the Ofgem probe into gas and electricity prices, which was issued a few days ago. I therefore make no excuse for coming back to the matter.

The House will be relieved to know, however, that I do not intend to rehearse the details of all these many developments, otherwise we might be here later than we would wish. My case—and this has been my argument since the House debated the carbon emissions reduction targets order last January—has centred on the problem of identifying the households that are in fuel poverty, particularly those that are in the priority group specified in that CERT order. We were told in the Explanatory Note to the order that there were now 11 million people in that priority group, and noble Lords will remember that the supplier industries had to supply 40 per cent of their target reductions from that group.

I understand from our debate in Grand Committee that there are some formidable obstacles to the question of identifying and targeting the households that deserve the special help. First and foremost there is the data protection legislation that prevents unauthorised disclosure. There is the issue of proportionality regarding whether the benefit from allowing disclosure is sufficient to justify the fact of disclosure. There is the issue of security of data, if data are to be transferred to other bodies—for instance, the energy supplier industries. And over it all, there are the imperatives of the human rights legislation. I would add, and I attach importance to this, the need to avoid stigmatising people by telling them to their faces that they are so poor that they need help. That is an important point that one needs to recognise.

Yet the Government continue to insist that they want to help the industry suppliers to,

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Those are the words that were used in the Government’s response to the Select Committee. So far, however, they have entirely failed to explain how.

I turn to the letter on 30 July from the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, to the noble Lord, Lord Mogg, whom I am delighted to see in his place today. It says:

“Both Ofgem and the Government share a commitment to ensure that those vulnerable to fuel poverty receive appropriately targeted help”.

I come back to the word “targeted”. In the same paragraph, the letter continues;

The noble Lord was there referring to the amendment to the Pensions Bill, but that is merely an amendment to give the Government power to make regulations. It is difficult to have a debate on this issue without knowing what the structure of the arrangements for the sharing of data is going to be, because we have not yet seen the regulations.

A few weeks ago I submitted a Written Question to the Government:

“How soon after the Pensions Bill receives Royal Assent they intend to make regulations under Clause 136 of the Bill as amended in Committee of the Whole House (HL Bill 79) about energy consumers who are in receipt of state pension credit; and whether they will publish draft regulations in advance of the Bill receiving Royal Assent”.

Even that would help—but no. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, replied:

“Clause 136 of the Pensions Bill enables the Secretary of State to set out in regulations details of how state pension credit data are to be shared with energy suppliers. We are working closely with energy suppliers, the Department for Energy and Climate Change, Defra and Ofgem to agree how the data-sharing process will work. We will lay the draft regulations as soon as possible after Royal Assent; they will be affirmative and therefore subject to full parliamentary scrutiny”.—[Official Report, 10/10/08; col. WA 24.]

We are no wiser at all. They are not prepared to help in any way so that we can see how this will all work.

Ofgem, which has been leading the fight for targeting, had a summit last April that was headed “Targeting the Help”. I therefore approached that body and asked what was its latest information on this. The answer I had from the official there was:

“I don’t know at present if the Government has plans for further legislation in this regard”.

Not only does Ofgem not know what is going to happen but it does not even know how the Government are going to do it.

6 pm

It seems to me that we are in some difficulties on this. The purpose of my amendment is simply to ask for more explanations of how Ministers intend to deal with the crucial issue of targeting. I acknowledge and indeed applaud the several organisations that have been making heroic efforts, such as EAGA, and the many voluntary groups which have offered their help, to fill the gap between the householders who need help and the energy industries that are in a position to give it. I recognise, too, the strenuous efforts that are being

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made by the supplying companies to fulfil their commitments. Indeed, under the CERT legislation, it is their obligation; they are under a statutory legal obligation to get their savings from the 40 per cent of the priority group, and they are liable, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, told us in the debate in the House, to severe penalties if they do not achieve it. But they are not told which households they have to get their savings from, so that the solution to the core problem of targeting still remains hopelessly unclear. When I argued this case last January, it was the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, then the Defra Minister, who struggled to convince noble Lords that the policy was capable of being implemented. Anybody who was in the House for that debate will recall that there was a Minister under very considerable pressure.

In Grand Committee, the task fell to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and he was rather more reassuring. Indeed, he began by congratulating me on having got my amendment on to the Marshalled List at all. The House of Commons—the other place—was not allowed to discuss this issue at all; it was not allowed to discuss fuel poverty when debating the Energy Bill. It fell to this place, with the help of officials, to get it on to our Marshalled List.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, told us that there had to be,

Then he went on to say:

“However, I have to tell the noble Lord that the precise details of the future arrangements are still being considered and discussed with supplier companies”.—[Official Report, 1/7/08; cols. GC 43-44.]

Yet the government response to the Select Committee report in another place, which we got earlier this month, provides absolutely nothing on targeting. You can read it in full and secure no information whatever—it simply does not refer to it. There is a great deal about how much money is going to be spent by the industry and the Government, but nothing—nothing, my Lords—about helping companies to identify who should get that help.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, is here representing both departments—the Department of Energy and Climate Change, as it now is, and the department formerly represented by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. So he has assumed the mantle of both the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and the noble Lord, Lord Bach. We look to him now to give us some enlightenment as to how this will all be achieved. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords—

Lord Mogg: My Lords, I may be hidden, but I would like to make a short intervention. I speak as the chairman of Ofgem, an organisation whose name seems to pepper every intervention, usually to pass on work, which I note with some anxiety.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, makes my contribution short and very easy. He explained, precisely and elaborately, the background to his amendment. I congratulate him on his persistence and ingenuity in convincing the House authorities to include it for debate.

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Fuel poverty is a fundamental concern. At the fuel poverty summit held in April this year, there were five Ministers, chief executive-level representatives of the energy supply companies, and most of the representatives of those agencies which were actively involved in this process. The outcome was the constructive development of new policies, principally focused around the intention of targeting fuel poverty. I pay tribute to the Minister, Mike O’Brien, for putting forward in the Pensions Bill, at a fairly late stage, an amendment which allowed a focused targeting of the constituents covered by that legislation. Narrow though it was, it was still a contribution and the first, in my experience, to try to deal with the targeting of these measures.

The fuel poverty summit has been followed up with a fuel poverty action programme. I am sorry that we are fairly uninspired in our entitlements. That, too, has demonstrated a real wish to make this approach more general. As the noble Lord said, I was particularly grateful for the letter from the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, which identified a willingness to review the situation more generally. I do not need to quote it as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has done so in extenso.

I fully support the motivation behind the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, but I am particularly anxious that we make progress in identifying with a little more precision, and perhaps with a little more timetabling—in the same way as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has been given some very interesting information on metering which is of considerable interest to my authority—whether the Government see any opportunities, if not in this Bill then in others, to have a more broadly based approach to targeting fuel poverty while safeguarding the privacy concerns that are so necessary. We in Ofgem fully recognise data privacy concerns. Single mothers with children, the disabled and the chronically sick will not be covered by the pension fund amendment, which I believe has every chance of success. I hope that the Government will be able to give, perhaps even at the end of this debate, some indication of the timetabling.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords who have spoken in this debate—the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, who tabled the amendment, and the noble Lord, Lord Mogg, for identifying areas in which constructive action has been taken against the objective which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, identified. As he rightly said, we debated this in Committee in July, and a great deal has been done subsequently. I do not want to repeat the debates of July, and neither does the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. However, we both recognise that the sharing of personal data between government and energy suppliers to identify vulnerable households raises a number of complex issues of privacy and human rights, and that we need to proceed with care on sensitive information. We are looking at the way in which we can achieve the outcomes we all seek in tackling fuel poverty, while having the appropriate safeguards in place to ensure that both data protection and human rights legislation are complied with.

Of course the Government want consumers to receive the help for which they are eligible. That means that we will need to share some sensitive and private

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information, which raises very difficult issues with regard to legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, identified the progress that has been made on the Pensions Bill, which is a significant step forward. He bemoaned the fact that we had not yet produced the draft regulations, but we do not expect Royal Assent for the Bill until November. We intend to publish draft regulations shortly after that. There will certainly be draft regulations in the New Year. As the noble Lord will know, demands are often made of Governments to produce draft regulations before Royal Assent is obtained, but regulations more often follow the passing of the legislation. But we recognise the urgency of the position and will produce the regulations early. I hope that he will recognise our earnest and good intent by that undertaking.

As the noble Lord recognised, and as the noble Lord, Lord Mogg, identified with great clarity, a great deal is being done in the mean time. We have made amendments to the secondary legislation underpinning energy performance certificates to allow a form of data sharing. All homes now require an energy assessment when they are sold or rented, and that involves production of an energy performance certificate which includes a home energy rating on an A to G scale. In the first instance, the new powers will be used to pass the data in an energy performance certificate to the Energy Saving Trust so that support can be targeted at those homes with the worst energy performance; that is, those receiving an F or G rating. The Energy Saving Trust will then be able to advise householders on the most appropriate energy efficiency measures and direct them towards the best sources of help and resources.

The Government have also launched a major information and marketing campaign as part of the £1 billion Home Energy Saving Programme announced by the Prime Minister on 11 September. The Government will spend considerable sums during the autumn on promoting the benefits of home energy efficiency and directing members of the public to schemes through which they can be helped to improve their homes. That includes the carbon emissions reduction target, which was the focus of the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, promoted so ably.

As part of the programme, energy suppliers will send a letter and brochure to all their customers highlighting the range of actions that they can take to help reduce fuel bills and make their homes more comfortable. The letters, signed by both energy suppliers and the Government, will set out a range of useful energy-saving measures and signpost the additional help available to those over 70 or on qualifying benefits. I am pleased to say that, in part because of this campaign, energy suppliers have confirmed to the Government that they are having little trouble finding consumers to target with energy-saving measures. That includes vulnerable households in the CERT priority group of low-income and elderly households which proved particularly challenging in earlier phases of the energy supplier obligation. In fact, the problem has rather reversed, such that demand for insulation measures currently outstrips supply.

We are, as the noble Lord, Lord Mogg, indicated in his valuable contribution, working closely with energy suppliers and the insulation industry to increase the

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resources available and raise the capacity of the insulation installation industry. Between these additional awareness-raising measures and the inclusion of the over-70s in CERT for the first time, energy suppliers are already finding it easier to find priority-group households than they are the larger group of “able to pay” households.

We are therefore making considerable progress. The Prime Minister’s announcement on the Home Energy Saving Programme included a proposal for a new community energy saving programme, established through the Climate Change Bill, which will include a new obligation on energy companies, including for the first time the electricity generators, to promote energy-saving measures to low-income communities across Great Britain. It is clear that it will be essential for energy companies to be able easily to identify the communities and households on which they are expected to focus their activities. We are working closely with them to design that scheme and will pay particular attention to the identification of target communities.

6.15 pm

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, upbraided the Government for what he regarded as limited progress. I think that considerable progress has been made in the Pensions Bill and in what we, Ofgem and the energy suppliers have been able to do in identifying vulnerable groups and providing the help that they need. Governments can always be enjoined to act more quickly but, on this occasion, I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, can upbraid us for lack of intent. It is clear that we have taken on board the important issue of how we identify the households most in need of these measures. Legislative problems are involved in identification and securing the information, but I assure the House that, within this framework, the Government are taking constructive steps. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for giving me the opportunity to identify a number of them, and I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I can certainly assure the Minister that I have never doubted for a second the Government’s “intent” to try to solve the problem. My difficulty is that they keep talking about identifying and targeting, but it seems still to be a comparatively difficult task. The information that I have from the industry may be a little different from the Minister’s. I am told that it still finds it difficult to find households—for instance, in the poorest areas—which have not already benefited from the Warm Front programme. They send their agents round only for them to find that the households concerned have their insulation already, which does not count towards the 40 per cent target because it happened earlier.

I am waiting to see how the clause in the Pensions Bill will be carried into effect through the regulations. The noble Lord, Lord Mogg, may know more about what will be in them—he shakes his head, so he does not. What mechanism will be used to fulfil Ministers’ intentions, spelt out by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, and emphasised again by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, today, to target that particularly vulnerable group of pension credit recipients? I shall wait to see what happens. This is an issue on which we

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need to keep up the pressure. I recognise and have no doubt, as the Minister said, that great efforts are being made, but how effective are they? One should recollect that the cost of the CERT programme to every single householder in the country—I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Mogg, because this is another Ofgem figure—is just short of £40 a year. It is the consumers who are paying, not the Government, and it goes on to bills, as do ROCs and other things. How many consumers know that? It goes on to the bills not only of consumers who can pay them but of everyone, including those of the fuel-poor households.

I would not say at this stage that it is a flawed programme, but I have considerable doubts whether it will achieve the targets. The Prime Minister has again heaped another great obligation on the industry and received a lot of publicity for it. We will wait to see what happens. I shall not let the matter go, but I shall for the moment beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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