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Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): So far, the hon. Lady has talked exclusively about local government housing. My constituency is in a former mining area and is very poor. It falls between two stools in that it is not quite rural and not quite metropolitan. Eighty-six per cent. of my constituents are home owners, and they suffer from exactly the same problems of fuel poverty. Is not the best way of helping people to rescue themselves from fuel poverty ensuring that they have more money in their pockets?
If we are to deal with fuel poverty, we must give local government the tools that it needs. The inhabitants of houses in multiple occupation are often among the poorest people in society. They are the least able to deal with the properties that they occupy, especially when those properties are rented, because they cannot afford to do so. Someone must work on their behalf, and part 3 of the Bill is essential in that regard.
The Bill's structure is strong. Its purpose is the elimination of fuel poverty, the measurement of targets along the way, and the identification of households that should qualify for the energy conservation scheme. I pay tribute to the Government for the warm homes scheme, and the work of the Energy Saving Trust. I have attended meetings held by the trust in Surrey, which have brought together HECA officersHECA stands for Home Energy Conservation Actcommunity health workers and a range of other people to share ideas, suggest innovations and consider the different ways of ending fuel poverty. The experience has been exciting and rewarding, but all those people still say the same thing: if they are to be empowered, they must be empowered by Government.
We are suffering some desperate disappointments. We are trying to support the sensible measures in the Bill, but the rug keeps sliding from under our feet. How do we know when we will meet our targets? We must pinpoint the failures and introduce measures to ensure that we meet the targets. Otherwise, in 2010 or 2020 we shall be saying, "We will not quite meet this or that environmental target", and claiming that the figures, or other factors, have changed.
We must take positive action. We cannot just tell people, "Do this; we do not mind how you do it". If we are to hold up our heads when we visit places such as Johannesburg, ostensibly leading the way on environmental issues, we must deliver on our own doorstep, and we cannot do that unless we enact the Bill in its original form.
Mr. Meacher: Let me say something about amendments Nos. 5 and 6. Amendment No. 5 removes the existing fuel poverty clause from the Bill. I have worked closely with my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) on a new fuel poverty clause that better meets our joint aims of ending fuel poverty. Amendment No. 6 would establish a commencement date for the fuel poverty clause12 months after the passing of the Actbringing it into line with the deadline for the energy-efficiency provisions.
I never cease to be stunned by the brass neck of the Tory party, and especially by that of the hon. Member for MidBedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed). As I said in Committee, poverty, and fuel poverty, trebled during the 18 years of Conservative government. In 1997 we inherited a situation in which, depending on the definition used, there were between 4 million and 5 million fuel poor. I will take no lessons from him or the Tory party about dealing with fuel poverty because the Tories massively exacerbated it. We are addressing it, reducing it and seeking to eliminate it by 2010.
The hon. Gentleman said that we could have used our time better. I do not think that we could have used it better than by the implementation of the home energy efficiency scheme, the warm front scheme and the energy efficiency commitment. Those three massive programmes require a huge amount of Government funding together with a significant upgrading of local authority stock to decent standards. We all want the Bill to succeed, and if it does, its success will overwhelmingly be due to existing components of the Government's programme.
The hon. Gentleman also said that we could have done better in promoting energy efficiency. He is probably unaware that the energy efficiency best practice programme operated by my Department reckons that it saves several hundred million pounds a year primarily at the industrial level, but also at the domestic level. We constantly promote energy efficiency to the fullest possible extent.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman suggested that we had somehow massaged the figures by changing the definitions. He completely misses the point that I have made repeatedly: whichever definition we use, whether it is based on gross or net income, we will achieve our target in respect of the main categories of fuel povertyelderly people who are fuel poor, the long-term sick and disabled and low-income families with childrenby taking them out of fuel poverty by 2010.
The hon. Gentleman's remarks are not only grudging and curmudgeonly, but unreasonable. I am glad to support this important Bill. It builds on the foundation of Government policy which is overwhelmingly driving in that direction, contrary to the record of the previous Government.
Dr. Desmond Turner: This morning is about private Members' legislation, where traditionally the party divides are a little less obvious, so I shall not get involved in the spat across the Front Benches. It is all too easy to get bogged down in statistics and lose sight of the basic truths. However, there are two simple truths: first, whatever statistical definition is used, we all agree that there are still too many people in fuel poverty; secondly, the Government are working hard to address fuel poverty and investing heavily to that end. The new clause helps to focus that investment at a local level to make sure that it delivers most effectively. In that respect local authorities can do a more effective job than a national organisation. They know their areas, they know where the people with the greatest problems are and they can point strategy in the right direction. We all want to end fuel poverty, and the new clause expresses the original intentions of the Bill by requiring local authorities to play their role in doing so.
I point out to the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) that we are building on the provisions of the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, because the fuel poverty strategy was a requirement of that Act. The Government have delivered the fuel poverty strategy, but it needs to be implemented physically. Unfortunately, that Act, which was an excellent private Member's Bill, did not have any statutory teeth in respect of local authorities and placed no statutory burden on them. This Bill does and new clause 1 sets it firmly in the centre of the Bill. It may not be all that everybody wants and I do not pretend that it is, but it represents a considerable and significant advance. On the basis of moving towards the achievement of an aim for which we are all striving, I commend the new clause to the House.
'After section 349 of the Housing Act 1985 there is inserted
"349A Review of schemes not conforming to model scheme
(1) This section applies to a registration scheme ("the scheme") made by a local housing authority which
(a) at the time it came into force did not conform to the model registration scheme, and
(b) has not been subsequently varied so as to conform to the model scheme.
(2) Every five years after the coming into force of the scheme the authority shall decide whether or not to vary the scheme so that it conforms to the model scheme.
(3) At least six months before the time at which a decision under subsection (2) is required the authority shall publish a notice which
(a) states whether or not they intend to vary the scheme so that it conforms to the model scheme, and
(b) invites persons to make written representations in relation to that intention within the period of three months beginning with the day the notice is published.
(4) In making the decision under subsection (2) the authority shall take into account any written representations which are made to them within that period.
(5) If the authority decide not to vary the scheme so that it conforms to the model scheme, they shall publish a notice of that decision.
(6) In this section "publish" means publish in one or more newspapers circulating in the district of the local housing authority concerned.".'.[Dr. Desmond Turner.]
Dr. Turner: Again, I am happy to endorse the new clause. It amends the provisions on houses in multiple occupation and seeks to address some of the concerns expressed by landlords. If anyone thinks that we are out to clobber landlords for the sake of it, it shows that we are not. Indeed we have been listening to their concerns, putting them to the Government and, I am pleased to say, getting a positive response, which is illustrated in the new clause.
The National Federation of Residential Landlords considers that licensing is a mistake from a policy point of view. We would expect that because nobody wants to be licensed if they can avoid it. However, they also find that the basis now proposed is
The Bill provides for the Secretary of state to prepare model registration schemes. There is, however, the possibility that local housing authorities may depart from model schemes. In certain areas, existing schemes may not conform to the Secretary of State's model and
New clause 2 would ensure that schemes that do not conform to the Secretary of State's model are reviewed after five years of operation, that there is public consultation and that the results of that public consultation are taken into account in deciding whether the scheme should continue in its existing form or be modified.