HC Deb 04 July 2003 vol 408 cc716-20
Mr. Chope

I beg to move amendment No. 7, in page 2, line 2, leave out from "household" to end of line 3 and insert which needs to spend more than 10 per cent.of its income on fuel costs to heat its home to an adequate standard of warmth. () In this section an adequate standard of warmth means 21(c in the living room and 18(c in other occupied rooms.".

2.15 pm

The amendment would introduce a definition of fuel poverty that is already the standard definition, which, for some reason, is not included in the Bill. The Government say that they are committed to ending fuel poverty or reducing the numbers of people in fuel poverty, but they are prepared to accept a definition of fuel poverty in statute that is only in the most vague and general terms. Why do we not take the opportunity of incorporating into the Bill the same definition of fuel poverty as is contained in the Government"s warm front policies—that anybody is in fuel poverty who must spend more than 10 per cent. of their income on heating their home to a reasonable standard of warmth? That is set out in the amendment. I hope that the promoter of the Bill and the Government will accept the proposal. If not, I will be extremely suspicious that for all the Government"s talk about being keen on reducing fuel poverty, they are actually keen on having a target to reduce something that they are not prepared to define.

Brian White

My definition was based on that in the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, which was introduced by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess)—not Basildon, as I have written on my crib note. The point about incomes and the more detailed definition of fuel poverty is absolutely right, and it will be covered in reports. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

This is a crucial amendment, and it goes to the heart of whether the Bill is a serious exercise to help the fuel poor or an exercise in trying to claim that we are achieving something that we will not achieve.

I have some knowledge of this matter, as we had a hearing in the Public Accounts Committee on the basis of the National Audit Office report, "Warm front: helping to combat fuel poverty". We found that even the warm front scheme, on which the amendment is supposed to be based, does not address the fuel poor. It is essential to include a benchmark in the Bill to ensure that those who live in most poverty benefit from its provisions. The NAO report found: The suitability of passport benefits as a proxy for fuel poverty has not been tested systematically, but some limited exercises suggest that there may be significant numbers of fuel poor (perhaps 35–40 per cent) in these vulnerable groups who are not eligible for Warm Front because they are not claiming benefit or are not entitled to the relevant benefits. Similarly, recent work commissioned by the Scheme managers combined with other data indicates that between 40 and 70 per cent of households eligible for Warm Front may not be fuel poor, because they have a reasonable level of income or live in a home which is already energy efficient. That brief quote shows the difficulties that are already being encountered with the Government"s warm front scheme, about which we had a long hearing. The very least that we need in the Bill is what is contained in the amendment. At the moment, the provision is so vague that it is virtually unenforceable.

Mr. Timms

As my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White) rightly pointed out, the definition reflects that in existing primary legislation, and is the appropriate one to use. I should point out that both the fuel poverty strategy and the Government"s annual report on progress in implementing the strategy provide information on the basis of the two common definitions of fuel poverty. We are therefore ensuring that the information that everybody needs is placed in the public domain, where it can be accessed. By contrast with the previous Government, this Government have a very strong commitment to make real progress on this issue, as we are now doing.

Mr. Chope

I find this incredibly disappointing and frustrating. I am tempted to say, "Let"s divide on this", and see whether we can add the provision to the Bill. At the same time, I am conscious that I want to see this Bill, however inadequate, on the statute book. I find it frustrating that the Government are so pig-headed, particularly on something that is of such fundamental importance to millions of our constituents. I know that some Members are minded to say, "Let"s divide", so if I were to seek the leave of the House to withdraw the amendment, perhaps they may wish to resist that. However, if we divide on the amendment, we will not be able to discuss any other aspect of the Bill, but perhaps the Government are already intent on destroying it. None the less, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Chope

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 3, at end insert—

"() For the purposes of this section "sustainable energy" is to be regarded as including nuclear power.".
Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 2, in page 8, line 5, leave out "renewable" and insert "sustainable".

No. 3, in page 8, line 10, leave out "renewable" and insert "sustainable".

No. 4, in page 8, line 11, leave out "or nuclear fuel".

Mr. Chope

This group of amendments deals with the nuclear industry. There has been a fundamental failure by the Government to incorporate anything sensible about nuclear power in the White Paper. If we are to be serious about reducing carbon emissions, we must recognise that we cannot do away with the 20 per cent. of electricity that is generated by nuclear and replace it with the energy generated by windmills, because not enough windmills will be built quickly enough to replace the energy that would not be generated if our existing nuclear generating capacity were closed. If the Government are to be serious about global warming, they must be much more serious than they have been in recognising that there is and should be a role for nuclear in the future.

The Nuclear Industry Association"s newsletter, "IndustryLink", of June-July 2003 contains an article headed "Grand vision-small promises". It says: The Government's long-awaited energy White Paper was published on 24 February. It expounds a grand vision, but promises to deliver very little. The cornerstone of the White Paper is the ambitious objective of reducing carbon emissions by 60 per cent. from 1990 levels by 2050". It then says that that aim is not capable of achievement.

The same document refers to what has been happening in Switzerland, where 40 per cent. of electricity is generated by nuclear. Recently, there have been referendums in Switzerland and people have shown their support for nuclear energy when faced with the possible alternatives and their concern about carbon emissions. In Finland, there has been a great development of nuclear power, so why cannot we have a similar vision from the Government here if they are to be serious about energy issues? Some 20 per cent. of our electricity is currently generated by nuclear, but they are keen to phase it out and they have no proposals for an alternative. In the meantime, our nuclear generating industry is losing its best scientists and experts. They are forced to go overseas because they do not see a future for themselves in this country.

This is a serious issue, and the amendments would ensure that its seriousness is brought home to the Government regularly through the legislative procedure contained in the Bill.

Brian White

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need a nuclear debate in this country similar to the one that has just been held in Finland. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) would be quite right to object if we tried to slip that debate in at 20 minutes past 2 on a Friday afternoon. We need such a debate. Both pro and antinuclear people support the Bill. On that basis, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment but to join me in calling for a proper nuclear debate.

Mr. Timms

We set out clearly in the energy White Paper our policy on nuclear. It is currently an important source of carbon-free electricity, but its economics are not attractive at present and major issues about nuclear waste are still to be resolved. That is why we have not made any proposals to build new nuclear power stations, but we do not rule out the possibility that, at some point in the future, new nuclear build might be necessary. As my hon. Friend rightly said, there would need to be full public consultation before such a decision was made. Indeed, we have undertaken to publish a further White Paper setting out our proposals if we decide to go down that road. I hope that the House will not accept the amendments.

Mr. Chope

Again, that was a totally unsatisfactory response from the Minister. Why do we need a further White Paper to discuss nuclear in the future when we already have all the information before us? What is missing is the Government commitment to endorse nuclear as a means of enabling us to reduce carbon emissions. I again express my grave dissatisfaction with the Government"s approach.

A letter from one of my constituents says that replacing nuclear with renewables would result in an enormous bill to the taxpayer that would be far in excess of what would otherwise be necessary. It says that nuclear electricity accounts for about 25 per cent. of total electricity output, and that if British Energy had been supported to the same extent as renewables, its shares would be worth more than £10 each today rather than the 4p at which they currently stand. That shows that the Government have discriminated unfairly against the nuclear industry, including through the climate change levy. I again express my dissatisfaction, but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Back to
Forward to