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'(A1) The appropriate Minister shall in exercising any functions under this section or under the principal Act, and in considering whether or not to exercise those functions, have as a principal aim the achievement of an improvement in energy efficiency in residential accommodation of at least 30 per cent. by the end of 2010, taking 1st January 1996 as the base line date.'.
Dr. Turner: I think that all hon. Members agree that targets are an essential part of delivering the energy efficiency and the fuel poverty components of the Bill. To some extent, I share the disappointment of other hon. Members that the Bill contains no specific targets, in terms of percentages. However, more importantly, Government amendment No. 11 contains a mechanism to make energy conservation a statutory burden on local authorities. At present, it is an optional activity that some authorities pursue with more vigour than others.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath): I also join hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Gentleman on promoting this important Bill. He mentioned concerns about non-statutory requirements, but does he share my concern that the amendment will mean that it will no longer be a
Dr. Turner: I do not in practice share the hon. Gentleman's concern, because whether we are talking about the HECA target or the PIU target, they mean the same in practice. They will deliver the same total quantity of energy conservation if they are achieved. No one disputes the desirability of achieving that target or the consequences of not doing so. Anyone who set out to try to achieve a lesser overall target would, rightly, be scorned. That is not going to happen. It is unthinkable.
The 20 per cent. PIU target and the 30 per cent. HECA target may not be formal Government policy, but they are the centrepiece of everyone's thinking on energy conservation. They have effectively been endorsed by Ministers from all the Departments concerned, so it is inconceivable that they would not form the working aim. I wanted to put it in the Bill that the Secretary of State should have the PIU target as his aim. I chose the PIU target, but the Liberal Democrats have tabled an amendment, in the same words as my original amendment, that refers to the HECA target. They come to the same thing.
I know that it is psychologically important to have one of those targets in the Bill and I would have preferred that to be the case. However, British Governments, whether Tory or Labourprobably even Liberal, back in the dim and distant days when we had such thingswill not allow figures to appear in Bills. I find that extraordinary, but it is true. The only examples of Governments being prepared to put figures in a Bill are Finance Bills, which obviously would not mean much without them. In reality, those targets are the principle aim of everybody involved and will inform the targets set by the Secretary of State to achieve that aim.
Amendment No. 11 makes provision for setting targets as necessary, according to the local authority. Some authorities have done outstandingly well in energy conservation, and that is not necessarily correlated directly to their political complexion. There are good Conservative-controlled authorities, good Labour- controlled authorities and, probably, good Liberal- controlled authorities. There are also bad examples of authorities of all three political colours. It depends on how the local authorities set their political priorities.
Mr. Bryant: I accept the broad thrust of my hon. Friend's remarks. However, some local authorities, including mine, face a further challenge. If 86 per cent. of the population are home owners living in properties that do not meet any of the necessary criteria, it is difficult for local authorities to make significant headway.
Dr. Turner: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention because it enables me to point out how local authorities in that position can make progress towards the targets. HECA officers, in good authorities, have an excellent record of effectiveness. They lever in funds for the purpose that amount to 10 times more than their employers need to put into the operation, because fundsnot only from Government schemes, but from the energy industryare available.
Those funds can be directed at owner-occupiers of limited means. They are not excluded from the Government's energy-saving, energy-efficient schemes. That is an important point. Private home owners who are poor can receive substantial grant assistance. Enthusiastic HECA officers have proved themselves good, adept and successful in co-ordinating and directing such funds to where they can do the most good. I submit to my hon. Friend that his constituency has precisely the sort of local authority where these measures can make a difference.
My main point is that the really significant provision to be included in the Bill is not the national overall target, because that is so clearly understood, but the fact that it sets in place the mechanism for giving the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, which we all applaud, a statutory responsibility for implementation of those targets at a local level on local energy authorities. That provision does not exist at present. If it were not for the Bill, the Government would, sooner or later, have to do something similar. Otherwise, my supporters and I are certain that we will not achieve either the HECA or the PIU target. We estimate that we will fall short of them by about a quarter. That represents a hell of a lot of tonnes of CO 2 that should not be omitted and a lot of homes using and wasting a lot more energy than they should. By dint of these provisions, we will be able to plug that gap. I count that as a truly significant gainpretty reasonable for a private Member's Bill, if the House accepts it.
The amendment also brings into the scope of legislation the energy conservation activities of registered social landlords, a point that has been made by colleagues, people outside the House and private landlords. Registered social landlords would be brought into the net under the amendment.
I have said all that I intend to say in support of the amendment. Let me say to the Members who have put their names to amendment (a) that I totally empathise with its intentions. In the greater interest of ensuring that the Bill becomes law, I respectfully ask them not to press their amendment to the vote. However, the point in the amendment is very well made. I hope that the House will accept amendment No. 11 and that it will not have to make a decision about amendment (a).
Mr. Meacher: Amendment No. 11 is the heart of the Billthe key issueand I am glad to support it. It effectively replaces clause 1, as agreed in Committee, with the exception of clause 1(7). It sets out the Bill's key provisions in relation to improving domestic energy efficiency. It amends the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, making it more effective and giving it more teeth. That is something that we all want, and I am pleased that we can use the Bill to do it.
Before I consider each of the amendment's proposals in detail, I shall explain why, in the Government's view, it is necessary to amend the Bill in this way. It would be an understatement to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) and I have considered this amendment at great length. I sometimes felt as though I had been in continuous session. The amendment is the outcome of many hours of discussion, deliberation and hard work.
Amendment No. 11 would introduce, in effect, a new HECA regime. Authorities would be required to prepare and implement new, more rigorous reports so as to achieve statutory targets. These targets would be set by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in England and the National Assembly for Wales, following consultation with local authority representatives. However, because the Government would not place a new burden on authorities without offering the funding to meet it in full, targets would not be set until the necessary funding could be made available. Until such time as targets were set, no new duties would be imposed on authorities.
Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell): On the financial cost of targets, I was very grateful to my right hon. Friend for writing to me in March about the possibility of including targets in the Bill. He referred to the 600,000 home insulation grants that the Government were funding, at a possible cost of £2,000 each. Has any assessment been made of the impact of those grants over the next three years on possible targets under an HECA regime?
Mr. Meacher: As I indicated in my remarks on new clause 1, that is, in effect, an essential part of the Government's commitment to the fuel strategy target of eliminating fuel poverty by 2010. Because, under the warm front team, it is a response to demandin other words, it is for householders, social workers, doctors or others in the locality to make an application for the work to be undertakenit is impossible to make a precise calculation of the overall effect, particularly over a 10-year period. However, there is no doubt that the majority of what remains to be done in meeting the fuel poverty strategy and improving home energy efficiency will be achieved by the warm front team and the energy efficiency commitment, as well as by upgrading local authority stock. I cannot give the exact figure, but it is certainly a major part of the cost.
The potential cost of the Bill to authorities is critical. There is an accepted principle in Government that local authorities must be fully funded for any new burdens imposed on them. A new burden on local authorities is defined as any policy or initiative that increases the cost of providing local authority services. So, for example, when new legislation creates extra responsibilities on councils, the Government fund those responsibilities.
Under this procedure, an overall policy objective can usually be met by securing appropriate funding within the spending review process. Crucially, however, when a new burden is introduced between reviewsas in this casea transfer of funds needs to be made within existing totals to ensure that local authorities are properly funded.
For each initiative, an identifiable Department is in the lead. Where an initiative emanates solely from one Department, that will be the lead Department. In this case, my Department is responsible for any new burdens that will be imposed on local authorities as a result of new domestic energy efficiency and fuel poverty duties.
In the context of the Bill, unless action is taken that clearly reduces local authority costs in other matters concerned with energy efficiency targets, I am responsible for finding the budget to reimburse all their costs. Without that funding, local authorities will have to secure provision from other budget hits. Many of them will simply say that that is not acceptable.