HC Deb 22 April 1994 vol 241 cc1219-28

'This Act, except sections 4 and 5, shall come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by order appoint; and different days may be appointed for different provisions, different purposes of the same provision and different areas.'.—[Mr. Baldry.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Baldry

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this we may discuss the following: New Clause 3—Power of Secretary of State to give guidance on conduct of investigations'.—(1) The Secretary of State may, from time to time, give such guidance as he considers appropriate to energy conservation authorities on how to carry out functions under section 2(1)(a) or (d) above. (2) An energy conservation authority carrying out functions under section 2(1)(a) or (d) above shall have regard to any guidance for the time being given under subsection (1) above in relation to those functions.'.

Amendment No. 92, in clause 2, page 2, line 4, leave out 'and'.

Amendment No. 93, in page 2, line 4, after `practicable', insert 'and cost effective'.

Amendment No. 181, in page 2, line 20, leave out from `cent.' to end of line 22 and insert 'or such other percentage as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument substitute; and any such instrument shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament;'. Amendment No. 94, in page 3, line 24, at end insert— `(5A) In determining for the purposes of subsection (1)(a) above what measures are in its opinion cost effective, the authority shall have regard to any guidance on the question for the time being issued by the Secretary of State.'. Amendment No. 43, in page 3, line 26, at end insert— '(6A) Nothing in this section shall be taken as conferring any power of entry on any energy conservation authority.'. Amendment No. 51, in page 3, leave out lines 27 and 28.

Amendment No. 153, in page 3, line 27, after 'plan', insert 'and any modification'.

Amendment No. 182, in page 3, line 28, at end insert— '(8) Orders under subsection (2)(a) above may make different provision with respect to different cases or classes of case.'. Amendment No. 52, in clause 3, page 3, leave out lines 29 to 45.

Amendment No. 203, in page 3, line 29, leave out 'shall' and insert 'may'.

Amendment No. 196, in page 3, line 29, leave out 'a date' and insert 'such date or dates as he considers appropriate'. Amendment No. 199, in page 3, line 29, leave out 'all'.

Amendment No. 151, in page 3, line 29, after 'plans', insert 'and modifications'.

Amendment No. 197, in page 3, line 29, after 'plans', insert or parts of plans, as he may specify'.

Amendment No. 206, in page 3, leave out lines 31 to 41.

Amendment No. 147, in page 3, line 31, leave out 'all such plans' and insert 'any plan or modification'.

Amendment No. 201, in page 3, line 31, leave out 'all such plans' and insert 'a plan or part of a plan specified under subsection (1) above'. Amendment No. 193, in page 3, leave out line 32.

Amendment No. 204, in page 3, line 32, leave out `shall' and insert 'may'.

Amendment No. 146, in page 3, line 32, leave out 'such plans' and insert 'the plan or modification'.

Amendment No. 198, in page 3, line 32, leave out 'such plans' and insert 'the plan or the part'.

Amendment No. 171, in page 3, leave out lines 33 and 34.

Amendment No. 170, in page 3, line 33, after 'may', insert

`, with the consent of the Treasury,'. Amendment No. 169, in page 3, line 33, leave out 'a Scheme for making'.

Amendment No. 148, in page 3, line 34, leave out 'of such plans'.

Amendment No. 195, in page 3, line 35, leave out lines 35 to 41.

Amendment No. 205, in page 3, line 37, leave out 'shall' and insert 'may'.

Amendment No. 200, in page 3, line 38, leave out from 'above;' to end of line 41.

Amendment No. 32, in page 3, line 40, leave out from 'with' to first 'different' in line 41.

Amendment No. 167, in page 3, line 42, after '(4)', insert 'Subject to subsection (5) below,'.

Amendment No. 149, in page 3, line 43, after 'plan', insert 'or modification'.

Amendment No. 166, in page 3, line 45, at end insert- '(5) Regulations under subsection (4) above may make different provision for different cases, or classes of case, including different provision for different areas.'. Amendment No. 53, Title, line 4, leave out from `Kingdom;' to second 'and' in line 5.

Amendment No. 194, line 5, leave out from 'powers' to second `and' in line 5 and insert 'to secure the implementation of such plans'.

Mr. Baldry

The amendments grouped with new clause 2 cover five main areas. New clause 2 deals with the commencement of the Act. New clause 3 and amendments Nos. 92, 93, 94 and 43 would require authorities to have regard to guidance on cost-effectiveness provided by the Secretary of State. Amendments Nos. 181 and 182 would change the estimated energy savings that local authorities should consider in their plans to 5 per cent. or such other percentages as the Secretary of State may, by order made by statutory instrument, substitute. Amendments Nos. 153, 147, 151, 146, 148 and 149 extend the local authority duty to send modifications as well as plans to the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State's duty to take action on modifications as well as plans. The remainder of amendments in the group deal with the clause headed

Duties of the Secretary of State". So there are five clear strands to the group of amendments.

It may be sensible to discuss, first, our views on the duties that the Bill would impose on the Secretary of State; secondly, the new powers of the Secretary of State, that have been suggested by hon. Members; thirdly, the new clause on commencement that the Government have suggested; and finally, the amendments that would extend the local authority duty to send modifications as well as plans to the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State's duty to take action on modification as well as plans.

We have proposed an amendment that would delete the duty on the Secretary of State in clauses 2(7) and 3. If authorities are not to be required to produce plans, it is illogical to compel those who do produce plans to send them to the Secretary of State. It is just as illogical to require the Secretary of State to publish a timetable for the implementation of such plans, include specified material in that timetable or make regulations to secure the implementation of the plans.

Regardless of the merits of imposing a duty on authorities to draw up energy conservation plans, what would be the benefit of requiring local authorities to send such plans to the Secretary of State or of imposing other duties on the Secretary of State? After all, we are talking about local authority plans that set out the steps that the authorities wish to take in the local area. Local authorities, not central Government, would be responsible for drawing up and implementing the plans.

Mr. Beith

If that is the Minister's view, why does he require local authorities to submit waste management plans? The provisions are closely modelled on the system that he operates to require local authorities to submit waste management plans so that the overall national strategy can be understood.

Mr. Baldry

The fact that the right hon. Gentleman suggests that the plans are analogous with waste management plans shows the amount of work that he is expecting local authorities to undertake in the energy plans. Waste management plans are fairly substantial documents but they do not involve a local authority having to conduct an audit of every house or a sample of houses in its district. No useful purpose will be served by the Secretary of State's having perhaps more than 600 such plans landing on his desk.

I see no point in requiring the Secretary of State to prepare timetables. It cannot be sensible to require the Secretary of State to publish a timetable for the implementation of what are, after all, local authority plans. The authority will have prepared the plan, and considered its content and priorities in the light of available resources. But once all the detailed work has been done by the local authority—no doubt careful arrangements will have been made to ensure that the necessary funds are available at the right time—subsections (2) and (3) of clause 2 and clause 3 propose that the Secretary of State, not local authorities, should draw up the timetable for implementation.

The Secretary of State cannot be expected to know the time that the work will take, the resources that the local authority is prepared to provide or the date at which those resources will become available. I find it curious, given that local authorities are constantly suggesting that there is too much interference by Government Departments, that it is seriously suggested that the Secretary of State should have all those responsibilities. In view of the huge amount of information in the plans and the fact that the Secretary of State would have so many to consider, it would be unrealistic to ask the Secretary of State to set a timetable. The obvious people to draw up a timetable are the local authorities.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The Minister cannot have it both ways. The Minister and the Government keep saying that they want us to comply with our international obligations and ensure that, nationally, we use and conserve energy much more efficiently. They cannot then say that they are unwilling to do something that will provide the information to enable us to judge how well we as a nation do, could do, and should do to meet our targets. The Government cannot say that that requires too much exercise and effort. It may be better to leave it to local authorities to carry out the exercise if they are happy to do it, rather than to leave it to the Government. A recent example in which the Government, through an agency, conducted the assessment of council tax valuations was hardly a mega-success.

Mr. Baldry

The hon. Gentleman has been in and out of the Chamber today like a yo-yo and was not present for some of the relevant comments. The thrust of what I said earlier—I shall repeat itas it is equally relevant now—was that we naturally expect local authorities and local housing authorities to have regard to the energy efficiency of their housing stock. We already expect local authorities, as part of their housing investment programme submissions, to have regard to the energy efficiency of their housing stock, but we object to the Bill because it simply imposes a further statutory regulatory burden on local authorities that will not add much to the total sum of human knowledge. It will simply impose a burden on local authorities and an extra cost on taxpayers. It will not enhance the cause of energy efficiency.

We believe—Conservative Members have repeatedly made this clear today—that local authorities have an important role to play in energy efficiency. It is important that local authorities should take energy efficiency seriously, but a power for the Secretary of State to control in detail the timetable of what those local authorities do is unrealistic and unduly bureaucratic.

We work closely with local authorities on energy efficiency. Many hon. Members will know that energy efficiency and energy conservation formed a central theme of the Government's green house demonstration programme. Not only has that programme been instrumental in significantly raising energy efficiency awareness among local authorities—it has been the seedcorn for the large amount of work that local authorities are now undertaking to improve energy efficiency in their housing stock.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis)—he is not in the Chamber now but he has been an assiduous attender today—prayed in aid a pamphlet supporting the Bill which gives a number of examples of what local authorities are already doing, without the need for legislation, to improve the energy efficiency of their housing stock.

The green house demonstration programme, launched in 1990 as an important element of our policies to combat global warming by means of increased energy efficiency, had as its aim the establishment of a national network of reputable demonstration schemes for council housing, to show how energy efficiency could be improved. In the three years of the programme, which concluded at the end of the 1993-94 financial year, no fewer than 186 schemes across 130 local authorities had been completed or were still in being, and funding over the life of the programme totalled about £60 million—a substantial achievement in a short time.

Part of the success of the programme lies in the approach adopted to assessing schemes. To encourage radical thinking about energy efficiency and a logical and thorough approach to it, local authorities were encouraged to submit schemes in the context of good stock condition information, together with a developed and approved energy policy for themselves. The schemes were assessed in two categories: strategic schemes which demonstrated well-proven measures, combined in integrated packages that were known to be effective; and innovative schemes that demonstrated known technology.

Mr. O'Neill

I realise that this Bill does not cover Scotland, although we had hoped to amend it to ensure that it did.

I represent a constituency comprising wards from several local authorities. It is very frustrating to have to explain to one group of constituents and voters why they are not getting the benefits of some of the schemes that the Minister has mentioned—which have been replicated in Scotland by the Scottish Office—while the residents in other authorities' areas are. It is those differences between local authorities that the Bill is intended to attack.

We want the best standards provided for all our constituents. Without the sort of legislative underpinning that the Bill offers, that consistency of approach right across the country will not be achieved. It should not be left to the whim of local authorities to decide to implement energy saving schemes of the kind we all know to be desirable. Consistency is surely in everyone's interest.

Two local authorities are part of my constituency: Clackmannan, a small Labour authority, and Stirling, a district council. These two adjacent authorities under different political control have different political priorities, but the needs of their citizens in respect of energy efficiency are exactly the same.

Mr. Baldry

I shall have to crave your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, as I am in danger of being repetitious—if only because there has been a moveable cast on the Opposition Benches for today's debate; hon. Members have been coming and going all the time, so I am not sure whether they heard the points that I made earlier.

The whole point about the green house demonstration programme is that it was a demonstration programme. As I said, it was spread across 130 local authorities in England. As with any such scheme, one envisaged that local authorities that were not part of it would go and see what was being done by those that were, to see what lessons could be learnt. There is certainly no reason why local authorities should not learn from the best practice of those that took part in the scheme.

Newark and Sherwood have frequently been mentioned in these debates in the context of the work that they have done on their own housing stock. That scheme was part of the green house demonstration programme and under existing legislation there is nothing to prevent other local authorities from undertaking exactly the same sort of work as that carried out by Newark and Sherwood.

The Newark and Sherwood schemes, which have been prayed in aid, demonstrated that substantial savings could be made on housing stock. It was not a question of Newark and Sherwood asking for extra resources. As I have repeatedly said, we expect all local authorities, irrespective of political complexion and location, to have regard to the energy efficiency of their housing stock.

Every housing authority in England is obliged each year, when bidding for resources for the housing programme for the forthcoming year, to make a submission to the Department of the Environment under the housing investment programme. As I have said several times, we have made it clear that those local authorities are expected to outline the steps that they are taking to promote energy efficiency in their housing stock.

Mr. Battle

The Minister cannot shelter behind the notion that he is protecting local authorities from extra legislation. Many local authorities have signed up to support the Bill: the Association of County Councils, the Association of District Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities all want the Bill. Why does the Minister purport to know better than them and say that he is protecting them? Surely they know what they can carry out, what they are required to do and how they can deliver. The Minister is playing parliamentary games so that the Bill is talked out because he does not have the guts to come clean and say that the Government are opposed to it in principle.

Mr. Baldry

I am amazed to find that the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) has not been listening to what I have said in the debate, at Question Time on Wednesday, and on the "Today" programme this morning, which is that we oppose the Bill because we think that it will place an unreasonable regulatory burden on local authorities and an unnecessary cost on taxpayers. In so far as some local authorities say that they favour the Bill's principles, they do so because, if the Bill were passed, they would automatically be able to say to Parliament, "You have placed this statutory burden and obligation upon us. Therefore, we expect central Government—the taxpayers —to fund this new burden."

As the hon. Member for Leeds, West knows, that is the way in which local authorities negotiate every year with central Government when they think that new burdens have been placed upon them. As we have heard, the lowest estimate for meeting the Bill's requirements is about £23 million, but that is the most optimistic estimate of what it would cost to carry out the audits. There are better ways to spend such money on promoting energy efficiency. It could be used to extend the home energy efficiency scheme to another 125,000 homes. If the hon. Member for Leeds, West has not understood the Government's concerns about the Bill, he must not have been listening on Wednesday, today or at any time.

I spoke about the green house demonstration programme and said that all schemes had to meet strict criteria. They included the ability to achieve a minimum CO2 reduction of 15 per cent; a minimum reduction in total energy use of 25 per cent; affordable warmth for tenants; and a minimum financial contribution from the local authority of 25 per cent. In addition, schemes had to meet an excellence rating which was characterised by a high strategic rating, a high CO2 reduction and a low payback period for the proposed work. Scheme bids from local authorities were assessed by my Department's regional offices and ranked first by region and then nationally in the context of available resources.

The range of projects representing proven technologies demonstrates the benefits of integrated packages of heating, insulation, controlled ventilation and advice to tenants. However, the programme has supported some more innovative schemes, including heat-recovery ventilation, energy management systems and low-energy lighting.

With the Government's help, an enormous amount has been going on in local authorities in recent years to promote energy efficiency. Through the building research energy conservation support unit, the Department of the Environment continues to monitor output from the programme. The key findings are already evident, however. Targets for energy savings and carbon dioxide reductions are likely to be achieved in the majority of schemes and are surpassed in some.

It would have been wrong for the Government simply to sit back and say that the green house demonstration programme was a success and that they did not have to do any more—and we have not taken that view. Although the programme was successful in showing the way to achieve improved energy efficiency, we know that local authorities need to be guided and encouraged further to maximise the take-up of energy efficiency schemes. That is why, drawing on the experiences gained from the green house demonstration programme, we required local authorities to include energy efficiency as an integral part of their housing strategies and investment programmes from last year on. In that way, local authorities consider energy efficiency as a matter of course, rather than as an optional extra.

Performance on energy efficiency is one factor that my Department considers when assessing housing investment programme allocations. We backed up the requirement by issuing guidance—"Energy Efficiency in Council Housing". Since its launch last year, the guidance has been well received. Some hon. Members present will be familiar with the content and the approach that it advocates.

The hon. Member for Leeds, West has been scurrying around his hon. Friends. If he had been in his place he would have known that his hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) expressed concern about the fact that insufficient advice was being given to local authorities. Our key aim is to set out the steps that local authorities must take to develop a sound energy efficiency policy.

Those steps are not novel. Any organisation might sensibly consider them, when devising and carrying through an energy efficiency policy. As a consequence of our work and guidance many local authorities are doing so as a matter of course. They are identifying the range of interests that potentially need to be involved in developing successful energy efficiency policy; establishing the base position, including assessing the energy efficiency performance of stock and the resources being spent on energy-related improvements; devising and setting policy, including the establishment of aims, objectives and targets; putting policy into practice, including how to integrate energy efficiency into wider works and maintenance programmes, as part of the housing investment process; and finally, monitoring and evaluating, including assessing the need to review progress periodically and to revisit objectives and targets.

I hope that hon. Members—certainly those who attended our previous debates and the debate today—will recognise that many of those steps touch on ground that is dealt with in the Bill. They are related to the local authority's stock and provide further evidence of the need to step back and reflect on what local authorities are already doing about energy efficiency—a lot is being done —without placing the burden of additional duties on them and on central Government. Additional statutory duties carry significant costs.

We have no intention of letting slip the momentum fuelled by the green house demonstration programme. The Department will shortly publish an updated and consolidated version of the guidance and we shall keep the energy efficiency component that is incorporated in the housing investment programme under review.

Some hon. Members tabled amendments that would require authorities to have regard to any guidance on cost-effectiveness provided by the Secretary of State. That is probably a good idea, because the Bill contains no reference to cost-effectiveness. That may be for reasons that we shall never understand. Energy conservation authorities are asked to decide what energy conservation measures are desirable and practicable, but it is also essential that those measures are cost-effective. That criterion must be applied to the assessment of any recommendations arising from an energy audit exercise.

There is little point in pursuing a recommendation to insulate all lofts in an area this year if half the roofs will need extensive refurbishment next year—it is better to combine the jobs and reduce costs. Appropriate regard to combining jobs is an important factor. That is something that certain local authorities do, and all local authorities should take into account.

Scheduling of blocks of work will also have an impact on the cost-effectiveness of the energy efficiency refurbishment programme. The prices that it is possible to negotiate with contractors vary hugely according to many significant factors, and the number of installations is a key factor. Many local authorities know that already. The scope to negotiate a keen price increases markedly if nearby jobs can be grouped together.

Having due regard to the quality of work is also an important aspect of the cost-effectiveness of investment in energy efficiency. Of course it can be incorporated into plans in many ways. They include adherence to good practice in selecting and applying energy efficiency measures—for example, the EEO's best practice programme and the Department's green house programme provide impartial information on the effectiveness of a wide range of energy efficiency measures; ensuring that contractors follow the required standards of good practice as set by, for example, the British Standards Institution, or are accredited by, for example, the British Board of Agrément; ensuring that the measures have been properly applied—for example, by infra-red thermographic assessment of the application of insulation; and providing adequate guidance to occupiers, which is often overlooked in energy efficiency investment programmes.

It is important that occupiers fully understand the measures taken. It is essential that the people who will, or will not, be making energy savings are told about the measures, how they can save energy and how they should be operated.

There is no point to preparing a plan that includes measures that will cost a great deal and save little energy. There is no point in taking cheaper measures when they will have little effect on energy efficiency. If plans had to be prepared and implemented, money would have to be found—and it would have to come from taxpayers—and well spent.

There are already many sources of the cost-effectiveness of energy-efficiency measures. Basic guidance is included in leaflets produced in my Department's "helping the Earth begins at home" campaign. More detailed information is available from the Building Research Establishment. There are tried and tested methods of working out whether an approach will provide value for money—such as that known as net present value. The guidance might take a form similar to that proposed by one of my hon. Friends.

The details were set out in an amendment that was tabled but not selected for debate—which I regret. However, on balance, it would be preferable for the Secretary of State to have a power to give guidance rather than to present detailed guidance in primary legislation.

Mr. Beith

Is the Minister determined to continue reading his brief, so that he can personally talk out this widely supported measure and make sure that everybody knows that the Government blocked the Bill? Or will the Minister sit down at 2.29 pm, so that one of his hon. Friends can do his dirty work for him?

Mr. Baldry

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman still has not understood the situation. I will clearly spell it out for him. He had every opportunity to negotiate with the Government amendments that would have made the Bill one that could have passed speedily through the House. The right hon. Gentleman chose not to do that.

We have consistently and persistently made it clear why we believe that the Bill in its present form would not be of benefit, in that it would place extra statutory burdens on local authorities and extra costs on taxpayers. We do not believe that would be to anyone's advantage. The money that the Bill, if unamended, would cost would be far better spent on other energy efficiency measures.

The Bill certainly cannot be seen as a touchstone of the Government's firm commitment to energy efficiency matters. This year, we doubled the EEO's budget and more than doubled the home energy efficiency scheme budget. Half a million homes will be insulated this year. That is why the United Kingdom has been one of the first—if not the first—countries to make it clear how we will achieve the targets set in international conventions on meeting and reducing carbon dioxide emissions so that they are stabilised at 1990 levels by 2000.

If right hon. and hon. Members have not understood where the Government stand on the Bill, they have not listened to anything that was said during the debate. We have made it very clear that we are determined to meet our international commitments. We believe that local authorities have a part to play in that. Everything that has been said during the debate makes it perfectly clear that—

It being half-past Two o'clock, further consideration of the Bill stood adjourned.

Bill to be further considered on Friday 13 May.

Mr. Simon Hughes

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Only because my right hon. Friend alluded to it, I think it right to ask whether you think it is an unprecedented—I ask this seriously—breach of the procedures of the House that a Minister, who starts a debate at 9.30 am, is the person responsible for blocking the progress of a private Member's Bill through Parliament simply by the use of the delaying mechanism of time? My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick upon Tweed (Mr. Beith) can find ways of bringing the Bill back. It is important that the House and the country know whether, if we manage to find two, three or four more days in the Session, Ministers—not Back Benchers—can block—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made a point, but how those arrangements are made is not a matter for the Chair.