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Mr. Sayeed: I think that either the Minister misheard me or I misspoke something. I did not accuse him of weasel words; I said that as a Member of some long standing in this place, I can see a weasel action coming down the line. As far as I am aware, nor did I accuse him of making a specious excuse, although I was accusing the action of being specious. I would like to make it clear to him that I understand the point about cost, as all Governments have to take that into consideration. However, I cannot understand how, given that they have not worked out the costs in the six months since the Bill was publicly announced, the Government will be able to come to a definitive idea of the costs in just a few weeks.
What we know, however, is that the money resolution put money by for the Bill. One presumes that the money that this House voted for the Bill, on the Government's advice, was the amount that they thought that it would cost.
Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman is being a little weasel-worded in trying to drive a distinction between me as the Government spokesman on the Bill and the rest of the Government. I speak here on the Government's behalf, and he cannot say that I am not being specious, or delaying, but that the Government are. I cannot accept that distinction.
On costing, it is of some significance that the supporters of the Bill, for which I have great regard and support, have never come forward with targets or costings. The Government's problem in trying genuinely to help the Bill is that it is not for us to write in the targets or costings. Our task is to respond to a private Member's Bill that suggests what those should be and, if we do not agree with them, to say so. However, we have been presented with something of a blank cheque and invited to write in all the contents. I am prepared to consider that and to respond
Column Number: 46positively, but I think it a little unfair to say that we have had six months to respond when we have not had anything specific to respond to.
I pick up on the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South about civil servants, which is where we part company. I do not think that his claim that civil servants have given me misleading or dishonest advice is fair and I repudiate it. Civil servants have been carrying out a review of the role of local authorities in improving energy efficiency. I wanted that and I have been continually pestering them, as they will confirm, on the inadequacy of HECA. I have been saying that for a long time, and we have finally agreed to have a review entirely at my bidding.
The terms of reference for the review, as agreed by me, are available on the Department's website. They do not refer to watering down of targets. The reference to targets is clear:
Those are totally open-ended terms of reference. My dissatisfaction matches that of members of the Committee. I wanted my civil servants to look at the weaknesses, inadequacies and flaws of the original Bill. I see that the hon. Member for Guildford wants to intervene. I am not trying to belittle the importance of the 1995 Act. I am simply trying to improve it.
Sue Doughty: Listening to the Minister and his explanation was helpful. We do not know how much this will cost and how much work there is to be done. Helpfully, he said that he had requested information on the funding. I was not there at the time and so I ask this question in all innocence: could we have done something with pilots? Could we have asked a cross-section of local authorities what was implied? I am slightly unsure about why we do not know what the costs are.
Mr. Meacher: We have been consulting local authorities on this. I am anxious to learn from them. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown made the entirely fair point that there is enormous variation between local authorities. Some have done extremely well. Some are well on track to meet the 30 per cent. target within a 10 or 15-year period. Others have hardly started moving. It is important to find out why. It is not just a question of Government funding, as my hon. Friend rightly said. It is a question of local political determination and local political priorities and where they propose to put the money that they receive from Government. That has been the background to the review: how do we ensure that the laggards can adopt the best practice of the more successful authorities?
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South said that civil servants ignored my wishes and the wishes of local authorities and non-governmental organisations on the review and recommended weak and non-statutory targets. I do not recognise that description. My hon. Friend may be referring to draft recommendations that were circulated to members of the steering group that we set up. Those were
Column Number: 47preliminary thoughts taking into account the views of a wide variety of organisations, including local authorities and the Local Government Association. They were circulated to the steering group for comment. It was a means of obtaining views, not of ignoring them.
Mr. Simpson: Could my right hon. Friend clarify that it was suggested that the targets be made aspirational?
Mr. Meacher: I accept that reference was made in the initial comments to a number of alternatives, one of which was that there should be purely aspirational targets. That is not a Government view. It is certainly not my view and no such conclusion could be reached while I remain in this post. My hon. Friend is a little unfair in suggesting that the wording that appeared suggests that the civil servants are trying to subvert my position. They know perfectly well that they would have little luck if they tried to do that.
He also said that my ministerial colleagues objected to putting targets on the face of the Bill. Again, the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions pointed out, as is perfectly reasonable, that if targets were put on the face of the Bill, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs would have to fund them. The local authorities would carry them out, the DTLR is the sponsoring Ministry for local government, but we would have to fund them. As have already said, we are acutely aware of this. I intend to proceed. I am convinced that we shall but I have to be entirely clear what I am letting the Government in for, what it will cost, and that I can persuade colleagues, including those at the DTLR,that it is manageable.
My hon. Friend also referred to climate change targets. That again is important. There is no doubt that energy efficiency is an important part of achieving our climate change targets. Committee members will know that the United Kingdom, along with Germany and Luxembourg—which is a smaller state—are the only countries in the EU, and probably most of the developed world, that are well on track to achieving those targets. We believe that we are on track to achieve not only our legally binding target of 12.5 per cent. cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2010 compared with 1990, but a cut of 23 per cent., which is not far off double. One way of ensuring that is the new energy efficiency commitment, which starts on 1 April, and we have also examined the renewables obligation to see how we could strengthen it and achieve 10 per cent. electricity generation by renewables by 2010. The much-strengthened home energy efficiency scheme is on track to insulate 800,000 homes in the private sector by 2004, while there will be upgrading of social housing by local authorities and registered social landlords. We will also follow up on the recommendations of the performance and innovation unit, which will report shortly, and announce new measures where necessary. I am confident that we will meet the targets.
The question is how the targets will be set and delivered. That is the only issue between me and every other Member who has spoken. I come from exactly the same direction, but must ask Committee members to think of the Government's position. If they were in
Column Number: 48my position, would they vote for amendment (a) without knowing what the target is and what it will cost? There are no targets in HECA, although that could be changed. It is not as if we are consolidating targets that are already there; the targets are in the guidance. Legislation is not passed to turn targets in guidance into statutory targets.
The question remains simply what the targets should be. Bearing in mind that there is great local authority variation, we cannot put a single figure in the Bill because it would not be generally applicable. For some it would be too low, for others far too high. We must find a way to provide that targets take account of the differential position of local authorities. On costing, no responsible Government of any party could sign a blank cheque. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown said that a target would reduce the blank cheque. It might do that, if we knew what the target was, but we would still be left with some costing. I cannot ignore that.
I admire the spirit of the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South. I know exactly why he has put it forward and share his enthusiasm. He has been a profoundly successful campaigner for energy efficiency during the past decade, and will chalk up with my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown another major success with this Bill. I am prepared to regard the amendment as the basis on which the Government will consider our own amendment on setting and meeting the targets in guidance. That is as far as I can go. I hope that I have said enough to convince Committee members that I share the objectives of all Members who participated in this debate, but I cannot responsibly go further than a commitment to introduce an amendment on Report that fully takes into account the spirit of what has been said this morning. On the basis of further analysis that we need to make, it will provide a comprehensive analysis of what the targets should be for different local authorities and how they will be met. I hope on that basis my hon. Friend will withdraw his amendment.
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