HL Deb 04 March 1999 vol 597 cc1903-5

10.6 p.m.

Lord Dubs rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 22nd February be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the draft Energy Efficiency (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 is to provide a statutory basis for the promotion of energy efficiency in Northern Ireland. I believe it will be helpful to the House if I fill in the background to the preparation and drafting of the order.

Although departments in Northern Ireland have been actively promoting energy efficiency for quite some time, there has to date been only limited statutory authority for the expenditure involved. Consequently, parliamentary approval for this expenditure has been sought annually by way of the appropriation orders.

The Northern Ireland Audit Office indicated in a letter to the Department of Economic Development that this procedure should not be used in the long-term and that authority to incur expenditure should be defined by specific statute. An assurance was therefore given to the Northern Ireland Audit Office that the appropriate legislative cover would be obtained. This order seeks to fulfil that commitment.

The promotion of energy efficiency is an important government priority in Northern Ireland and I should like to explain how this policy is delivered. Until October 1997 energy efficiency was a matter exclusively for the Department of Economic Development. However, it was then decided—mainly due to the introduction of the Home Energy Conservation Act—that the responsibility for energy efficiency in residential accommodation should be transferred to the Department of the Environment. At the same time the opportunity was taken to transfer responsibility for promoting energy efficiency in government buildings, and in the public sector generally, to the DOE. The current arrangements for promoting energy efficiency are reflected in the terms of the draft order laid before the House.

The Department of Economic Development, through the Industrial Research and Technology Unit, promotes energy efficiency in industry and commerce; that is in Article 3. The department also promotes energy efficiency among voluntary organisations and community groups; that is in Article 4.

The Department of the Environment, through the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, is responsible for energy efficiency in residential accommodation; that is in Article 5. The DOE also has responsibility for promoting energy efficiency in the government estate and in other public bodies; and that is in Article 6.

The main provisions of the order are contained in four short and broadly similar articles dealing with the promotion of the efficient use of energy by industry, and voluntary organisations, in residential accommodation and by public bodies.

Each of these articles enables the relevant department to take such action as it considers appropriate to promote the efficient use of energy. The means by which that may be done include: the payment of grants or loans; the giving of advice; the dissemination of information; and the carrying out of research. The order does not place any new duties or requirements on businesses or individuals, nor will it give rise to increased public expenditure.

The promotion of energy efficiency in residential accommodation will also allow the Department of the Environment to focus on helping vulnerable groups in Northern Ireland such as the fuel poor. That will provide the department with the opportunity to promote fuel poverty schemes to improve the thermal efficiency of dwellings.

This is a short, non-controversial but necessary order which fills a gap in the current legislative provision with regard to the promotion of energy efficiency. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 22nd February be approved.—(Lord Dubs.)

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the order. I wish to take this opportunity to salute the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, in this area.

1 presume that the legislation follows similar legislation that obtains in the rest of the United Kingdom. I welcome the order and am content with it.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, I note that Articles 3 and 4 of the order refer to the Department of Economic Development and that that title also appears in the Explanatory Notes. During debate on 8th February (at col. 84 of Hansard) it was declared that the Department of Economic Development would become the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

I am not nit-picking, but in a previous incarnation I had the uncomfortable experience of being present on several occasions when Orders in Council were being considered and when, on the highest authority, an order was held to be invalid because one word had been wrongly inserted. Orders in Council cannot be amended. Are we therefore running into any difficulty by using the old name of the department when in the previous order its new name was used?

Lord Dubs

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for his positive support. I agree that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has made an important contribution in the whole area of energy efficiency. This House has had the benefit of the noble Lord's experience for many years.

The order provides coverage that is not required in Great Britain. because Northern Ireland has a more extensive promotional campaign in the domestic sector. So matters are not exactly the same as in Great Britain: in some respects we may have progressed further.

The noble Lord. Lord Molyneaux, was concerned about the use of a particular departmental name within the order. We are using the name of the department as it exists today. The order is therefore drafted in pre-devolution terms, so we have to use the term Department of Economic Development at the present time. However, the transfer of functions order will apply and will therefore take care of the change of name in the post-devolution situation from the old name to the new one. That is the proper way of doing it. We very much hope that devolution will take place over the next few weeks. In the meantime, we have to use the existing names of departments.

On Question, Motion agreed to.