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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am aware of and pay tribute to the noble Lord's contribution in this field. He will recognise that we are attempting to target the households in most difficulty as regards fuel poverty. For example, 3.7 million pensioners qualify under this proposition and they are the worst cases. Other pensioners who are not in receipt of benefit will have benefited from the winter fuel payments and we must recognise that some prioritisation is necessary. However, the document is subject to consultation and I have no doubt that the points to which the noble Lord referred can be made if they are submitted to the Government by 16th July.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is it not a fact that often people on the margin of income are being deprived of fuel because of the behaviour of the gas and electricity companies, which give large discounts to those who are well off, and charge a premium, particularly to those paying through a slot meter, to those who are not well off? Cannot something be done to redress the balance, because it would certainly help those on the margin of income and perhaps those who are fuel-poor, too?
Baroness Maddock: My Lords, like my noble friend I welcome the extension of the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme. Can the Minister clarify an anomaly about which many noble Lords have expressed concern, both to him and to others? Under the old scheme, people who were eligible some years ago for fairly small grants for small amounts of insulation--perhaps just draught- proofing--were then not eligible for the larger grants which later came into being. We are now giving grants for cavity wall insulation and double glazing. How does the Minister see that situation developing?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I shall take advice on that matter. Under the new system the grants for substantial insulation or other measures to save fuel usage will be in a sense a "one-off", although there are leasing arrangements, as the noble Baroness will know. As regards those who received small payments at an earlier stage under the pre-existing scheme, perhaps the noble Baroness would allow me to write to her on that matter.
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the initiative being taken by an organisation called Equigas to meet precisely the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon? If so, are the Government in a position to make that opportunity better known to those on low incomes whose consumption of fuel is relatively small and who at present are disadvantaged by the pricing structure?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am, in general terms, aware of that initiative. It should, indeed, enjoy wider publicity. However, it will not deal with all the situations to which my noble friend Lord Stoddart referred.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, it is an unfortunate fact that there is a coincidence between fuel poverty and inefficient energy use of buildings. Can the Minister give any indication of how long it will take under the existing regime, which I acknowledge is improved, before energy inefficient houses have all been improved?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the short answer is "no". Clearly, we shall need to assess the priorities and ensure that they are determined by households and household circumstances rather than buildings and building circumstances. As the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, pointed out, some of the worst situations are within the private rented sector and, indeed, the owner-occupied sector. It is therefore slightly more difficult than with social housing or local authority housing to estimate how long such improvements will take. We have provided substantial additional funds on a different front for local
Lord Whitty: My Lords, London Transport has undertaken a review of the Underground penalty fare system in association with the London Regional Passengers' Committee and officials from the Government Office for London. We shall be considering the outcome of that review shortly. There will be an announcement about the review in due course.
The Earl of Clancarty: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I declare an interest in asking the Question, in that I have recently been charged by London Underground with a penalty fare; an interest, indeed, I have since discovered I share with a number of your Lordships. None of us, I hasten to add, had any intent to defraud London Underground. Does not the Minister agree that the current draconian application of penalty fares traps many people who have no intent whatever to defraud? Does he not agree that the system is inflexible; for example, it does not allow people to change their minds about a journey when they wish to travel outside the zone for which they possess a ticket? Does he not also agree that there should be an independent appeals procedure rather than London Underground acting as it does at present as judge and jury?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am slightly surprised to find a high level of such incidents among your Lordships. I am sure there was absolutely no intent. However, we are speaking of a penalty fare, not a criminal fine, which is requested when a passenger is discovered not to have an appropriate ticket. In those circumstances, it is not like a criminal case. Therefore, there is no full appeals process. However, the review will be considering, among other matters, whether the appeals dimension can be improved.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, under the GLA Bill, the London Transport powers will transfer to TfL. Therefore, should the noble Baroness be so moved to insert such a clause, it would be in order. However, the review will report shortly. It may well be that we shall have further news before we reach that part of the Bill.
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, the noble Lord showed concern by his own Written Answer only the other day, in which he stated that fare evasion is rising steeply at present. After the introduction of penalty fares, it went down, but it now appears to be rising dramatically. This is a great loss to those of us--I am sure the majority of your Lordships, certainly myself--who pay the appropriate fare and who do not like to see people--perhaps the noble Earl--getting away without paying for a proper ticket. Is the Minister further aware that at my local station, which I must confess is in Zone 2, automatic ticket gates were installed about two months ago but have still not been brought into operation because, apparently, there is insufficient electricity at the station to run them?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that we are concerned about the problem and have been for some time. The installation of automatic gates is proceeding, it is to be hoped with electricity. The PFI scheme called Prestige is, among other things, introducing electronic gateways to every station on the network, whereas by and large they currently exist only in central London. That should make a major contribution towards ensuring that everybody pays the correct fare.
Baroness Ludford: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl on his Question. He is quite right in saying that this problem causes a great deal of aggravation to London Underground users. It is particularly galling when the ticket machines are not working at the station of departure. Is the Minister aware of any plans by London Underground to modernise its ticketing system? It is not just the infrastructure which needs modernising. The whole ticketing system is decades behind European cities, which have multi-strip cards, add-on tickets, and so on. Does the Minister agree that the system is completely inflexible and not user friendly? Can he inform us of any progress in that direction?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, perhaps I may mention two or three points in relation to the questions raised by the noble Baroness. Where it is the fault of London Transport that a passenger does not possess a ticket--that is, the machine is not working--that is regarded as acceptable grounds for appeal. That is apparently the only circumstance. The infrastructure for ticketing is part of the same and parallel projects to introduce more modern ticketing machines. The question of the nature
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