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Lord Graham of Edmonton: From the Labour Benches I first apologise for the sad absence of my noble friend Lady Hilton who dealt with this matter at an earlier stage. Unfortunately, she has suffered a family bereavement. I am sure that the Committee will be thinking of her at this particularly sad time. However it provides me with an opportunity to say a few words about the Bill and the amendments.
I was impressed with how fluently the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, dealt with what could have been a complicated issue. He dealt with it well and openly. I was tempted to nod my head at all the arguments he produced until the Minister stood upthe noble Earl must have done this a thousand timesand said that there was no need for the amendments because the Bill is drawn wide enough to take into account whatever it was he said.
The noble Earl talked about kettles and elements. For a moment I was going to call him my "esteamed" friend. He impressed me with his knowledge of such matters. Mrs. Diana Maddock in another place, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, have done Parliament, the people and energy users a good service by getting the Bill this far. I have read the proceedings of another place where the Bill was given a right going over. It took almost five hours to get through its Committee stage in another place.
I fear the worst. If amendments were carried in this place they would have to run the gauntlet of another place. They would be capable of being used, or abused, by anyone who wanted to use it as a stick, although not necessarily to deal with this Bill, which, as my noble friend Lady Hilton said, is straightforward, simple and sensible.
The advice the Minister gave to the noble Earl is sound advice, especially as the Government took the trouble to move amendments in another place to improve the original Bill. They were accepted by Mrs. Diana Maddock and the whole House. There were no arguments and no animosity. We in this place would be doing the promoters of the Bill in both placesin effect, that means this country's consumersa service if we said to the noble Earl that he has served us well by pointing out that there are ways in which even this Bill can be improved; but the parliamentary logistics and the opportunities for mischief that might be created are overpowering reasons why the noble Earl should accept his noble friend's advice.
Baroness Hamwee: I thank noble Lords who have spoken. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Graham, to pass to the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, the condolences of these Benches. We were aware of some possible family difficulties and we are sorry to hear of her bereavement.
As my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich commented to me while the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, was moving the amendment, he would be more interested in hearing the Government's response than comments from Richmond-upon-Thames, although he did mention Richmond-upon-Thames. I am therefore grateful to the Minister for replying at such length. That will shorten what I need to say.
I support the noble Earl's intention to reduce consumption and pollution. Of course, as he said, that was at the heart of the Bill. I support his intention to develop services and products, but it is the old issue: is there a risk of being too specific on the face of the Bill? If we mention those specific matters, should we mention other specific matters? If we do, we should have to cover the whole ground for fear of leaving out something. The word "advice" is included in the definition of energy conservation matters and was inserted in another place at the instigation of the Government. Therefore, those generalities cover the matter very thoroughly indeed.
The Minister indicated that guidance will be a flexible instrument which can stress the very wide nature of what is available and what is possible. We know already that that is likely to include advice to industry and the voluntary sector. The Minister has mentioned also reports by local authorities and what they may possibly contain.
I have some small anxieties about the drafting of the amendments. For completeness I should mention that as drawn, the amendments would mean that the measure would have to deal with what the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has set out in paragraphs (a) and (b) and the generalities contained in the existing definition. I am not sure whether that is the intention.
I am rather concerned also as to whether the support for trade and industry in those services and products by local authorities would be intra vires the local authority. Supporting trade and industry is not the purpose of the Bill although that will be a very important by-product. I am rather concerned as to whether direct support in the way that it is suggested might be outside the scope of a local authority's powers.
As I say, that will be an important by-product. The Minister has reminded me of the very good work which many good local authorities didit now seems quite a long way back in historyin installing energy efficient light bulbs in local authority housing. There are a number of such examples. Local authorities, working in partnership with other sectors and with industry and business, will be able to achieve a great deal.
The noble Earl said in moving the amendment that we cannot sit back. Of course we cannot. This Bill may be the end of the beginning of one major area in dealing with energy issues. It is not the whole; but it is very important. I am sure that those who have been involved so far with the Bill and who are excited by the possibilities that it presents will agree with the noble Earl that we cannot sit back.
The Earl of Caithness: First, I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, how very sorry I am to hear about the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton. I hope that he will pass on to her my very best wishes.
The noble Lord disappointed me. I spent years on the Front Bench disagreeing with the noble Lord. I thought that when I was on the Back-Benches, at least we might agree. However, it looks as though we shall spend years disagreeing with each other. But I was not at all surprised by what he said.
I should like to press the Minister on a number of issues. Will he write to me with further details of the non-fossil fuel levy? Exactly what is in the Government's mind in that regard? How will that continue in the light of nuclear privatisation? How much money do the Government intend to spend on the very worthwhile path on which they have commenced? I should stress that that is a prime example of Conservative policy at its best because at least 3,000 people are now involved in the renewable energy field who were not so involved not many years ago, before the levy came into being. That is an area as regards which countries in Europe and around the world are turning to Britain and we are now at last seizing the gauntlet and becoming world leaders. Perhaps my noble friend will write to me on that.
My noble friend ducked the question, if I may put it that way, of cost; as, indeed, did the noble Baroness regarding what the costs of the proposal would be for local authorities. The noble Baroness certainly did not give a justification as to why Richmond-upon-Thames Council could spend the amount of money that it intends to spend in that respect as opposed to something more cost effective.
Finally, I am grateful for the response given by my noble friend the Minister. He mentioned the word "guidance". I hope that he will consult very widely on the question of guidance. Perhaps my noble friend could give me an assurance that he will consult the renewable industry sector about the sort of guidance that the Secretary of State will give to local authorities. I believe that that would be a comfort under the present circumstances. I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister would be kind enough to respond to some of those points before I withdraw the amendment.
Viscount Ullswater: I shall, of course, be happy to write to my noble friend about renewable energy and the amount of money that the Government are spending on it. My noble friend also indicated that he would like to see guidance consulted upon before it is issued. I shall certainly bear in mind what my noble friend said and draw it to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State when he considers the issuing of guidance. I do not believe that there is anything between us as regards guidance of which the industry would approve, but I shall certainly bring that to the attention of my right honourable friend.
The Earl of Caithness: I am most grateful to my noble friend for that response. Perhaps there will be an opportunity for me to take those points further at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.