Mr. Sayeed: I echo the point about consistency. That is extremely important. If we are to be able to compare, we must be able to contrast. However, we cannot contrast and understand information unless we are given it in the same format. I ask the Minister for an assurance. Will the information be made public and, if so, will copies be available to the public?
Mr. Meacher: That is an important point. The hon. Gentleman pre-empts amendment No. 33, which tries to do exactly that. The first part of the amendment places a new requirement on energy conservation authorities to make copies of their energy conservation reports and progress reports available to the public for inspection free of charge. Authorities are already obliged to publish their reports, but that is not to say that they are always readily accessible to interested members of the public. I am sure that hon. Members agree that it will be in the interests of local accountability and access to information for the documents to be open to public inspection and to be readily available. That is our intention, and I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's question.
Mr. Sayeed: I see in Government amendment No. 33 that the documents are available to the public for inspection free of charge. Some of the reports are fairly complex and take some time to read. One may need to take them away to compare them with others. Will the public be able to make copies of them?
Mr. Meacher: I am not sure whether we have decided yet, but my view is that as long as the documents are not excessively voluminous, there is no reason why a member of the public cannot take away what he can freely read. The intention is that they should be made freely available. I know as a Minister that one must always be careful about making a promise, as one can be told about conditions that may make fulfilling that promise difficult. I will write to the hon. Gentleman, but I believe that the answer is simply yes.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. Meacher: I beg to move amendment No. 32, in page 2, line 20, leave out subsection (5).
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 17, in page 2, line 20, leave out 'pursuant to this Part' and insert—
Mr. Meacher: It is amazing what progress one can make when there is broad agreement.
Subsection (5) requires regulations made pursuant to part 1 to be made by statutory instrument. The amendment proposes that it should be omitted, as it would not be needed in the light of amendment No. 29, which proposes that the regulation-making power under clause 1(2) is omitted. I realise that I have the great advantage of having a Government brief, as it is not always easy to follow explanations. However, I hope that my explanation is understood. There is no
Column Number: 65
other regulation-making power in part 1, and the subsection is redundant for that reason.
Dr. Turner: Once again, I have little difficulty with the Government amendment and I have no wish to press my amendment No. 17.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment made: No. 33, in page 2, line 22, at end insert—
'( ) An energy conservation authority must, at all reasonable times, keep a copy of any energy conservation report, or report sent to the Secretary of State under section 3(2)(a) of the principal Act, available for inspection by the public free of charge.
( ) In this section—
''energy conservation authority'' has the same meaning as in the principal Act,
''energy conservation report'' means a report prepared under section 2 or 5 of the principal Act,
''the principal Act'' means the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 (c. 10).'—[Mr. Meacher.]
Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Energy conservation authorities:
Dr. Turner: I beg to move amendment No. 18, in page 2, line 24, leave out from 'authority' to end of line 26 and insert—
'shall make arrangements for the carrying out of the authority's functions under this Act and the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, and shall identify an officer with responsibility for administering those arrangements.'.
The amendment was tabled to tidy up the drafting of the requirement in respect of HECA officers, which the officers and local government want because it helps local councils to deliver what is wanted if there are clearly designated officers with responsibility for carrying out the task. It does not matter whether they are called HECA officers or officers with responsibility to draw up HECA reports.
I know that the Minister has reservations about the provision, but I would like his comments on the provision of HECA officers before I decide whether to press the amendment to a Division.
Mr. Meacher: I understand why my hon. Friend tabled the amendment. If there is to be a significant uptake in energy efficiency standards in many authorities it will require drive, and should perhaps be headed by an individual or individuals.
There were difficulties with the text of the Bill on Second Reading, but the amendment would achieve nothing legally, although I understand its purpose, and I shall explain why. If, as I propose, a duty is placed on local authorities, they must make arrangements to carry out their functions under that duty; they do not need legislation to tell them so. If they are to carry out their functions they will also need to identify an officer or officers to do the work.
If the purpose is simply to add emphasis to the need for authorities to put adequate staffing arrangements in place, primary legislation is not appropriate. What
Column Number: 66
is needed is to set a clear statutory duty to meet a standard and it is up to the authorities how they do it. They will be penalised if they do not meet that standard, but it is for them to put in place whatever staffing requirement is necessary to do so. It is not for us to specify what they must do in every case; for example, in many local authorities, energy conservation officers may have other duties. That is why the Government amendment deletes clause 2. It is not that I disagree about what may happen, but that it is not appropriate for primary legislation to make it a requirement.
Mr. Sayeed: The Minister made some good points. Guidance, not primary legislation, is by far the best way to achieve what is wanted. However, I should like reassurance that the guidance will suggest that local authorities should have a nominated HECA officer and that that should be public knowledge. It is important that members of the public and organisations can contact a nominated person when they need to do so. They do not have to be full time officers; they may share their duties or have other duties, but it is important that nominated officers should be in local authorities' directives. I hope that the guidance issued by the Minister's Department will include that provision.
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): May I reinforce a valid point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed)? I apologise to the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown for misnaming his constituency. It may be a fault in my thinking, but I do not see the difference between his amendment No. 18 and clause 2. However, I shall leave that matter.
We are in an age where Governments try to be understanding and properly open, and to give access to people. That encouragement of public participation dates back to the citizens charter. Although the Minister has been scrupulous in precedence by saying that this provision is not needed, I would have hoped that, through the progress of modern government in openness, the provision might remain in the Bill. It is good to have a designated officer so that the public know that they can go to Mr. Joe Bloggs, in whatever department of the local authority, to raise their concerns about progress in implementing the Bill's objectives.
Although I would not press the matter in a Division, I hope that the Minister might take back to his colleagues the message that people need to be encouraged to participate in carrying out Parliament's requirements in legislation. To be given the name of someone in a local council in order to help to do so would be a welcome step forward in the process of public participation in legislation.
Mr. Meacher: I am happy to try to respond. There is a difference between what the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) is saying, which is to leave in the Bill the words:
Every energy conservation authority shall identify a designated officer—
which are pretty prescriptive—and what the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire is saying. He is saying
Column Number: 67
that the matter can be left to guidance but that the guidance might encourage—I am not sure whether he was saying ''require'', which is a term I would resist—local authorities to consider best practice of local authorities with a good record and that in most cases that will entail a designated person who, in whole or in part, makes this a major part of his responsibilities. I am happy to consider the wording of the guidance, which has not yet been drawn up, but I resist the provocation that it is necessary to ''require'' local authorities to appoint such officers when the objective is to achieve the standards and targets; how they do that is a matter for them.
Dr. Turner: I should be grateful if the Minister would assure us that he will take the opportunity in the guidance, which he will have to produce as a consequence of the Bill in any event, to encompass the sound point made by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire: the identification of an officer whom the public know is a source of information and guidance on energy conservation. That is an important and useful point, and I am happy for the Minister to cover it in guidance. Subject to his assurance to that effect, I shall withdraw the amendment.