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Malcolm Bruce: Fridges have not yet cost billions, although millions have certainly had to be found to deal with the problem.

There is a serious point here. I am entirely unconvinced that the money constraint is legitimate. I believe that the amount we are discussing is achievable, and would enable us to give the authorities responsible for reducing fuel poverty the further momentum that they need, while also inspiring those suffering from fuel poverty with the hope that there is a real will to end it.

I represent a Scottish constituency. The Bill applies only to England and Wales, but for that very reason I consider the amendment exceptionally helpful. If legislation for England and Wales sets a target, Scotland and Northern Ireland can hardly ignore the implications of that signal. I am not suggesting that they do not want to deal with fuel poverty.

This is a United Kingdom problem. Scotland and Northern Ireland are experiencing some of the worst climatic conditions in the UK, and have some of the worst-insulated houses. They have a real stake in the momentum behind the campaign. I do not think that the Bill is relevant only to England and Wales.

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As I said on Second Reading, I am depressed to note that, after the more than 20 years that I have been involved in, and campaigning on, energy and fuel-poverty issues, we seem to be just as engaged with the severity of a problem that we should have solved years ago. It appears to be a peculiarly British problem. Other countries with climates just as severe as ours seem to have managed, partly through good building design and partly by taking measures to insulate homes, to provide the necessary protection against wasteful, inefficient and expensive forms of heating that poor people cannot afford. It is deeply disappointing that, having gone this far down the road with a Minister who we all agree has a genuine dedication to the cause, the Government seem unable to accept a commitment that would make the Bill meaningful.

As the hon. Member for Nottingham, South said, there is a real danger that if the amendment is not passed, it will be assumed that we can ease up on the pressure we are already applying. Nothing could be worse than our passing legislation that put us into reverse. Let me tell the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) that, of course I want the Bill, of course I want the declarations of good intent, and of course I note the Minister's assurance that he will come up with targets and will find the money. I am sure that the Minister means that, but—I mean no disrespect to him—he may not be the Minister this time next year. He may well have been replaced by someone who does not have his commitment.

I do not want to be too sensitive about this, but the difficulties that we sometimes experience with the Minister are caused not by him, but by his inability to translate his will into practical action because of those around and above him. He is not well served by his Department or by his ministerial colleagues—I name no names. That has resulted in the present position.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, South almost provoked me into saying that the creation of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has taken us less than 12 months, while the campaign to abolish the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food took many years. The campaign to abolish DEFRA is already in full cry. The Department should never have been created: it does not work, it is a shambles, and it needs to be abolished as soon as possible.

The environment, and the commitment to deliver policies that will make a real difference to people's lives, require a Minister of the standard of the Minister we have, with a Department behind him that is willing to make that happen. If the House is serious about what it is trying to do, it will support amendment (a).

12.15 pm

Dr. Iddon: Like the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), for several decades I have been surprised by the slowness with which successive Governments have addressed the difficult subject of fuel poverty and energy efficiency. They appear to have been dragged kicking and screaming into the new century. Most of the progress in these matters has been made by the introduction of private Member's Bills in 1995 and 2000 and now in 2002. I endorse everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) said about my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) and my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment, for whom I have a great deal of respect.

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I always find it surprising that Governments have not grasped this issue and published a Government Bill dealing with all energy policy, including the branch that we are addressing today. We should bear in mind the fact that the Bill has the support of more than 100 local authorities, including my own. Not one of those local authorities has expressed the view that the targets that were originally set out in the Bill are unachievable.

I am concerned by what my right hon. Friend the Minister said this morning, as it will send the wrong signals to people out there who are involved in this policy area. The figure of 30 per cent. by 2010 was set by the Conservative Government in 1996. Earlier in the debate, my right hon. Friend said that the Conservatives did nothing about that target and made no money available. However they had just one year—1996–97. We have had a Labour Government for the past five years, so my right hon. Friend's criticism of the Conservative Government went a bit over the top and was an implicit criticism of our own Government, who have not made sufficient progress. My right hon. Friend has admitted that by his criticism of the targets.

Throughout the process, the 30 per cent. figure has been highlighted. It has been in the headlines and the literature; it has been pushed to local authorities and mentioned in debates in the House. I was not a member of the Standing Committee, although I understand that there was some backing off there, but this is the first time on the Floor of the House that the Government have backed off from the 30 per cent. target, which I still think is achievable.

I am torn between the two amendments. My heart tells me to support amendment (a) to amendment No. 11. I signed early-day motion 1136, which referred to the target of 30 per cent. as achievable. I am firmly behind the target and I thought that the Government were too.

We have been reminded today that it is not a target, but an aim. I certainly saw it as an achievable target, but now the word "aim" is being used. I am concerned that today's debate is sending the wrong signal to all the people who have been struggling to achieve the 30 per cent. target, whether or not we are now behind in terms of achieving it.

I have to ask my right hon. Friend where the money has gone. He will no doubt remind us that for two years we continued to operate the Conservative budget; but we have had our own budget for three years now. The comprehensive spending review is currently under discussion and the results will be published this summer. If we are behind the target, I must ask my right hon. Friend—I am sure that he has done this—whether he has put up a vigorous argument to the effect that we must put money behind our political will to deliver the target of 30 per cent. by 2010.

Like others, I am concerned that if we accept amendment No. 11 the figure of 30 per cent. will no longer be in the Bill. What does my right hon. Friend propose to do to avoid sending out the wrong signals today? Is he going to campaign vigorously for a figure of at least 30 per cent., or do I detect a change of policy? Are the Government backing off from that figure? The Minister must be categorical about the matter, otherwise many outside the House will be very disappointed with his comments. That said, I genuinely believe that he is committed to delivering on the environment, and I have a great deal of respect for him.

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In conclusion, there is one thought that might persuade me to vote for amendment (a): if we have a Conservative Government by 2010, it is they who will be stuck with the 30 per cent. figure.

Sir Sydney Chapman: I should point out to the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) that it was a Conservative Government who introduced the target. However, I agree that, if that Government were still in power today and had not made financial provisions to promote the target, the Minister's criticism would be correct. The reality is, however, that the Minister was being a little unfair.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Barker), who introduced amendment (a)—of which I am a sponsor—has virtually said it all, and the hon. Members for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson), for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), and for Bolton, South-East have said the rest. I shall sum up by making three points. First, the amendment would reintroduce a provision that was included in the original Bill. Secondly, although we could have watered down the phrase to "an aim", the correct phrase is "principal aim", given that the aim is indeed principal to the Bill. Having said that, I would have preferred the phrase "statutory duty". Thirdly, Government policies are littered with targets—from the promotion of health care to the Kyoto commitment—and I see no reason why Government policy should require them to resist amendment (a).

The Minister has rightly been praised for his record on matters environmental, but if he cannot accept this modest amendment, I am afraid that just a small blot will appear on his otherwise luminous green escutcheon.

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