Select Committee on European Scrutiny Fourteenth Report


ENERGY PERFORMANCE OF BUILDINGS


(22423)

8885/01

COM(01) 226


Draft Directive on the energy performance of buildings.

Legal base:Article 175(1) EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Department:Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of consideration:Minister's letter of 22 January 2002
Previous Committee Report:HC 152-xii (2001-02), paragraph 6 (16 January 2002)
Discussed in Council:4 December 2001
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared, but further information requested


Background

  8.1  In its Green Paper "Towards a European Strategy for Energy Supply", the Commission highlighted the importance of savings in the buildings and transport sectors both in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing the Community's increasing dependence on external sources to meet its energy needs. It therefore brought forward in this document last summer a draft Directive which seeks to improve the energy efficiency of buildings.

  8.2  The contents of the Commission's proposal, together with the Government's views on it and a report on the progress of the negotiations in Brussels up to the Energy Council on 4 December, are set out in paragraphs 6.2-6.16 of our Report of 16 January 2002. However, in our conclusions in that Report, we expressed concern over the way in which this document had been handled. In particular, we pointed out that we had been told in an Explanatory Memorandum dated 17 July 2001 that the Government had a number of reservations about the proposal, and that it would be submitting "shortly" a Regulatory Impact Assessment. We therefore decided to defer scrutiny until that information was available, but, despite numerous reminders, we next heard from the Minister, in a letter dated 4 December 2001, that the proposal had been extensively amended, and that he proposed to lift the UK scrutiny reserve at the Energy Council that same day, if the Government's remaining concerns had been met and there was a strong indication that political agreement could be achieved. Moreover, although the Minister had enclosed with his letter the long-awaited Regulatory Impact Assessment, this related to the original Commission proposal, and thus had effectively been overtaken by events. Finally, the Minister also said that he would write to us after the Energy Council to let us know the outcome, but, at the time of our meeting — some six weeks later — he had yet to do so.

  8.3  In view of this patently unsatisfactory situation, we asked the Minister to let us have, in time to consider at our current meeting, an explanation:

  • why the Regulatory Impact Assessment he promised to supply shortly after his Explanatory Memorandum of 17 July 2001 had taken so long to provide, and why we were not kept informed that this would be the case;

  • why he wrote only on the day of the Council concerned to say that he might be lifting the scrutiny reserve, and why it then took eight days for his letter to reach us;

  • why he had still to let us know the outcome of the Council;

  • what the cost implications were of whatever may have been agreed.

Minister's letter of 22 January 2002

  8.4  In his letter of 22 January 2002, the Minister apologises for the delay in reporting back following the Energy Council. He says that all Member States lifted their reserves, but that the Commission asked for a declaration to be registered expressing its dissatisfaction that the implementation date agreed was 36 months after the entry in force of the proposal, with an additional four years if this is needed because of a shortage of qualified people to carry out the various inspections which will be required. He also provided with his letter a copy of the Presidency compromise text, on which the next stage will involve discussion in the European Parliament. In the meantime, he says that overall he is pleased with the text, which is in line with the UK's aim of improving the energy efficiency of the building stock, and should deliver significant improvements in this respect both within the UK and throughout the Community. In view of this, he hopes that we will now feel able to clear the proposal.

  8.5  As to its handling, the Minister says that, although the UK repeatedly asked for clarification of key terms and definitions, these were not provided until late November, and that he is sorry we were not informed of this delay. He adds that, as the proposal was the only substantive item on the agenda at the Energy Council on 4 December, negotiations on possible amendments became intense during the previous month. The Minister also deals more specifically with the delay in supplying a Regulatory Impact Assessment. He points out that the Assessment attached to his letter of 4 December was a wide-ranging document covering a number of technical policy areas, and that his officials did not receive until 29 November the final contributions required from the outside specialists who were providing the underpinning analysis, by which time the original proposal had undergone amendment as a result of the intensive negotiations which had taken place. He adds that he wrote as soon as the Assessment had been finalised (on the same day as the discussion in the Council), but that the delay in it reaching us was caused by a misunderstanding within his department as to who was responsible for despatching it.

  8.6  On our question about the cost implications of the Presidency compromise, the Minister says that further analysis will not be undertaken until the European Parliament votes on the text, and its amendments have been considered by Member States: individual Regulatory Impact Assessments will then be prepared as any new legislative measures required are introduced, though he believes many of the proposals will have little or no additional cost implications because either they have been implemented, or — as in the case of the Government's proposal to include an energy performance certificate in a "Sellers' Pack" for homes — are planned for implementation in the future.

  8.7  Finally, the Minister says that he is sorry that the handling of this Directive "has not been as smooth as I would have wished", and that he has asked his officials to examine carefully any lessons that can be learned to improve matters in the future.

Conclusion

  8.8  The Minister's statement that the eight-day delay in our receiving his letter of 4 December was due to a misunderstanding over who was responsible for despatching it strikes us as singularly limp. Nevertheless, we welcome his undertaking to examine what lessons can be learned from the handling of this proposal, since we have noted more generally that the way in which the new Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has handled scrutiny questions so far leaves a good deal to be desired as compared with the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions. In the meantime, we would observe only that many of the problems in this instance were due to the statement in the Minister's own Explanatory Memorandum of 17 July 2001 that a Regulatory Impact Assessment would be provided shortly, which had the unfortunate consequences explained in paragraph 8.2 above.

  8.9  Because of this, the proposal has received less detailed scrutiny than would otherwise have been the case, and we have therefore considered carefully the Minister's request that we should now clear it. Somewhat reluctantly, we have decided to do so, on the basis that agreement has now been reached in the Council, and on the strength of the Minister's assurance that many of the proposals will have little or no cost implications. However, we do expect him to let us have as soon as he can any further information on costs, and to keep us informed promptly of any further developments, particularly if any amendments adopted by the European Parliament seem likely to alter the text agreed by the Council in a material way.


 
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