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Dr. Desmond Turner: Our debate has been interesting: its halting progress so far illustrates how tricky matters can be, even when 16 people fundamentally agree on objectives.

I agree with the Minister when he spelt out the terms of the amendment that he proposes to introduce on Report. I have difficulty not with that but with the obligation to meet targets in Committee, as that fundamentally weakens the Bill. No one wants that, including the Minister, and it seems inappropriate for us to include in the Bill something that none of us thinks is correct. I am therefore glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) moved amendment (a), as it reintroduces the targets and restores the thrust of the Bill on Second Reading. I assume that my amendments will fall. They are principally drafting amendments and no more than that. They do not change the thrust of the Bill.

Amendment No. 6 is the only amendment that would make a difference. It would require ''the appropriate authority'' to consult local authorities and registered social landlords who must deliver, before it set targets and guidance. It is ''the appropriate authority'', as we must remember that we have devolution. It is therefore not just ''the Secretary of State'', but ''the Secretary of State for England'' and the ''National Assembly for Wales''. That is a reasonable and practical proposition. The Bill is a crucial piece of legislation and we should not mess it up. The opportunity will not be repeated for some time because of the lack of speed in the workings of Parliament.

The Bill's importance is underlined by the widely leaked and entirely publicly available report from the performance and innovation unit. The report examines future energy provision and takes energy conservation as an assumption in the equation. It proposes a programme to produce a step change in the nation's energy efficiency, which the Government would lead. At the centre would be a new target to ensure that domestic consumers' energy efficiency improved by 20 per cent. between now and 2010, and 20 per cent. between 2010 and 2020. That target equates so closely with the targets in the HECA guidance that there is no practical difference. The HECA takes 1995 as its start date, so the target is not significantly different. Given the current progress against the HECA targets, if we

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are going to have a ghost of a chance of achieving the targets set out in the PIU report by 2010, we must start acting now. Two years down the line—the soonest that a Bill can reach the statute book—would be too late to enable the targets to be met. The Bill is the only show in town if we are going to meet that target.

Another interesting report is the Cambridge Econometrics report, which was prepared at the request of the Energy Saving Trust. The report deals with carbon emissions, but comes to the same conclusions. It considered two scenarios. The base case is a continuation of existing practice. Carbon emissions and energy use do not decrease between 1990 and 2010; they increase for households by 19 per cent.

The second case in the model is the home energy efficiency scheme that is in development. Things are a little better according to that scenario, but the result is still only a 5.5 per cent. reduction by 2010, which is well short of the targets on which hon. Members on both sides of the House agree. Whether on the environment, carbon emissions or providing for future energy needs, there is agreement to within a fraction of a per cent., which is neither here nor there. However, there is no way in which we can achieve our targets and aims without statutory provision, and the Bill is the only way in which we can make that statutory provision in time. That is why it is important to make it work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South raised two other problems. One is the question of legality and whether the current drafting or the amendment to the Minister's amendment—if it is passed—fulfil one school of thought of parliamentary counsel, which would still have it that there is no statutory reference for the setting of targets. The Minister and I have discussed that point, however, and I hope that the final and considered amendment that he tables on Report will make it clear that, under the terms of the Bill, target setting is a statutory requirement, as is the fulfilment of those targets. I am sure that that is not beyond the wit of draftsmen. That point should be carefully addressed. I know that there are two schools of thought, but let us not take chances. I hope that by the time the process has finished, we will have it right.

Then there are the spending implications. Again, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South that giving local authorities a statutory obligation to meet targets does not imply opening the floodgates of money, because those authorities that have performed outstandingly well compared to others—there are some—have done so without asking for money. They have used government money that is already available through energy saving schemes. The resources are quite considerable. Therefore if an authority that has performed at zero or has not even bothered to set a target says, ''We need a few million quid before we can do this, guv'', my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be fully entitled to say, ''No, you're not having so much as a pound until you can demonstrate the same level of commitment as other authorities.''

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It is a matter of dedication, will, enthusiasm and expertise. Action can be taken without massive extra resources. I am as opposed to wasteful use of resources as anyone. Resources are precious and we should not give lazy local authorities resources to squander. If there is to be any extra expenditure, I would advocate it being heavily justified. Under that sort of regime there would not be much extra expenditure unless the Government were to make a conscious decision to inject more resources to achieve a greater target. However, that is a different issue. I agree that it would be unwise to set a number in the Bill, but at the end of the day the Bill must show clearly that the appropriate authority shall set a number and that local authorities shall be under an obligation to meet it.

11.30 am

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): It is a great pleasure to be on the Committee serving under your chairmanship, Mr. Benton. As you will know, I am pleased to be a sponsor of the Bill. As you will see from the amendment paper, I am a supporter of amendment (a), to which the hon. Member for Nottingham, South spoke. Much of what I was going to say has already been said by the two previous speakers, so I can be brief.

Clause 1 goes to the heart of part 1 of this important Bill. In setting targets, it puts flesh on the bones of previous legislation. I pay tribute to the Minister, who has a deserved reputation for promoting energy conservation and efficiency and who has campaigned to alleviate fuel poverty. I thought that the Minister was a keen supporter of setting targets to advance the causes in which he so passionately believes. I must say that his comments came as a disappointment to me. The Minister mentioned that people say that he is not committed; I dissociate myself from them. I have not heard that myself. If there was one issue on which I disagreed with in the excellent contribution from the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), it is that I would not presume that civil servants had been advising the Minister in a particular way. I am anxious to keep on the best possible terms with Ministers and civil servants because I have a private Member's Bill in the pipeline.

The Minister's amendment No. 28 states:

    take all such steps as are reasonably practicable to implement the measures set out in any energy conservation report prepared by the authority.

I hope he will excuse me saying that that is a slightly woolly and rather long phrase. Targets are essential if the Bill is to have the teeth that it needs to achieve the objectives shared by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.

As I understand it, about 350 local authorities have HECA targets. Only a dozen or so do not, and they will have to be tackled in a different way at the appropriate time. The point of requiring those local authorities to meet their targets and of putting targets in the Bill is that we can monitor them and the Government may be able to help them if it appears that they are not going to meet the targets by a certain date.

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I ask the Minister to think again. From his earlier remarks I was not sure whether he was committing himself to strengthening his amendment on Report and specifically to ensuring that targets are set in the Bill, as the hon. Member for Nottingham, South said. Obviously, I would concur with the remarks of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion and, indeed, the hon. Member for Nottingham, South on whether or not we proceed with our amendment. I hope that the Minister will think again and ensure that the legislation, which we all hope will reach the statute book, specifically mentions targets.

Mr. David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion): I also wish to express my pleasure at serving on a Committee under your chairmanship, Mr. Benton. I rise in support of the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South in favour of targets—he put his case forward elegantly—and his warm tributes to the Minister. During the short time that I have been in Parliament, I have had experience of working with the Minister, and I have no hesitation in supporting the views of my hon. Friend.

The main reason for my brief contribution is to put on record the view of Brighton and Hove city council. I hesitated to intervene and correct the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet. It is my hon. Friend, whose Bill it is, who represents Brighton, Kemptown; I represent Brighton, Pavilion, but we have a shared view on the issue.

Hon. Members may know that the area of Brighton and Hove has many old Victorian and Regency buildings, a large proportion of which have been subdivided into flats and bedsits. There is also much council housing, built at a time when the main concern of the council was to house people as quickly as possible; inadequate attention may have been given to energy efficiency when those houses were built. The council faces a daunting task in improving home energy efficiency.

On Second Reading, I referred to the achievements of the local authority, which were listed in its latest HECA report. I will not go through them again; I refer anyone who wishes to read about them to the record of the Second Reading debate. However, I wish to point out that the achievements were made within existing budgets—within funding currently available to local authorities from Government schemes and from partnerships with the private sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South made a powerful point about the work of the best local authorities. I am sure that they would welcome more funding, but it is possible to make great progress even within existing budgets.

I recently received a letter from Councillor Framroze, who is the councillor responsible for housing on Brighton and Hove city council, which says:

    Experience has shown that guidance alone is ineffective in ensuring the necessary commitment from all ECAs across the country.

He goes on to make a telling point:

    it is essential that the opportunity presented by this Bill should not be lost. There is a real danger that the passage of a much weakened Bill could send a signal to local authorities that the Government does

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    not consider home energy conservation of sufficient importance to warrant necessary strengthening of current legislation. This would clearly be an ironic outcome to an initiative with precisely the opposite intention.

I believe that we all would echo the concern in that councillor's words. I am convinced that it is not the Minister's intention to weaken the Bill, but I ask him to consider seriously the wisdom of amendment No. 28(a).

 
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