HL Deb 15 July 2004 vol 663 cc1372-8

8 Before Clause 84, Insert the following new Clause—"

"Reports under section 1 of Sustainable Energy Act 2003

  1. Section 1 of the Sustainable Energy Act 2003 (c. 30) (annual reports on progress towards sustainable energy aims) is amended as follows.
  2. After subsection (1) insert—

(1A) The report must include, in particular, all such information as the Secretary of State considers appropriate about—

  1. things done during the reporting period for the purposes of the development or the bringing into use of any of the energy sources or technologies mentioned in subsection (1B);
  2. things done during that period for the purpose of ensuring the maintenance of the scientific and engineering expertise available in the United Kingdom that is necessary for the development of potential energy sources (including sources of nuclear energy); and
  3. things done during that period for the purpose of achieving the energy efficiency aims designated under sections 2 and 3.

(1B) The energy sources and technologies referred to in subsection (lA)(a) are—

  1. clean coal technology;
  2. coal mine methane;
  3. biomass;
  4. biofuels:
  5. fuel cells;
  6. photovoltaics;
  7. wave and tidal generation;
  8. hydrogeneration;
  9. microgeneration;
  10. geothermal sources; and
  11. other sources of energy, and technologies for the production of energy, the use of which would, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, cut the United Kingdom's carbon emissions.

(1C) The references in subsection ( IA) to things done during the reporting period include references to proposals of the Secretary of State published during that period. (3) In subsection (2) for "subsection (1)" substitute "subsections (1) to (1C)"
Lord Whitty

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 8. I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 1.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 8.—(Lord Whitty.)

Lord Ezra

rose to move, as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 8, Amendment No. 8A:

8A Before Clause 84, Line 19. at end insert— (d) things done during that period and proposed to be done to secure carbon savings from domestic energy efficiency of 5MtC per annum by 2010 and a further 5MtC per annum by 2020.

The noble Lord

said: My Lords, the purpose of the amendment, as is made clear on the Marshalled List, is to add to the list of subjects to be covered in the reports under Section 1 of the Sustainable Energy Act 2003 by including carbon savings from domestic energy efficiency. I need hardly remind noble Lords of the great importance which the Government have attached throughout the period since the publication of the energy White Paper to improving energy efficiency. Together with their emphasis on renewables, these are the two main planks of the Government's policy to achieve the reduction in carbon emissions to which they have committed themselves under Kyoto and in other ways.

This matter has figured largely in the debates on the Bill. Indeed, at Third Reading in the other place, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry referred to it: We will review our progress on the energy efficiency aim for the household sector in the review of the climate change programmes later this year, and in the 2007 review announced in the energy White Paper action plan. If we find that we can go further than we set out in the action plan, we will do so—[Official Report, Commons, 13/7/04; col. 1366.] I personally am firmly of the opinion that the Government should do so, and that they should revert to the figures mentioned in the energy White Paper and which are set out in the amendment I have proposed. Those figures were confirmed no fewer than 15 times—I repeat, on 15 separate occasions—by Ministers and senior civil servants as being the energy saving objectives for the domestic sector on which the Government have set their sights. Therefore, in the Energy Bill, which is intended to reflect what was set out in the energy White Paper, I think it is wholly desirable that reference be made to the objectives and that reports be produced annually on what has been done to achieve them, bearing in mind what the Secretary of State had to say about the Government wanting to go further than their recently announced reduced figures.

I hope that the House and the Government will be prepared to accept this small amendment so that we can reconfirm what the Government have already stated on so many separate occasions; that is, their commitment to achieve these savings of carbon emissions in the energy sector. I beg to move.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I support Amendment No. 8A, so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. Like the noble Lord, I am slightly mystified about why the Government have not included the higher targets. It appears that the Government have discussed what they think can be achieved and have set their target accordingly rather than pushing for the higher figure that they had originally hoped to achieve. However, I shall not repeat what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, because he has defined the point very clearly.

Perhaps I may draw the attention of noble Lords to the fact that Early Day Motion 96, which expressed strong support for the higher 5MtC target for residential energy, was signed by 338 honourable Members, representing over half the elected Chamber. Since the clause was removed in Committee, some 229 MPs have signed Early Day Motion 1341 in support of the higher target. In addition, four of the MPs who voted to remove the clause in Committee have now signed this Early Day Motion, which must beg the question why the Government are refusing to accept it. Given that the Government won that vote by only two, it could be argued that the four MPs who have now signed the Early Day Motion have had second thoughts, there is now a Committee majority in the other place for Clause 3. Some 120 Labour MPs have issued press releases to their local papers supporting the higher target, and it is important that noble Lords are made aware of that.

In our earlier discussions we pressed for the higher target, and my noble friend Lady Miller wanted to ensure that it was reached. The Government's own sustainable energy policy website now lists CO2 savings as specified in the proposed amendment—as 5MtC per annum by 2010, and a further 4MtC by 2020 as commitments and objectives. It is hugely important that the noble Lord reconsiders this issue.

My noble friend highlighted the document Policy in Confidence, a draft written on 2 March 2004 of the Government's energy efficiency implementation plan. She drew the attention of noble Lords to paragraph 96: However, the most recent update of the United Kingdom's energy projections has highlighted the fact that changes to our baseline projections mean that the existing package of measures may no longer be sufficient to keep us on track to deliver the expected absolute. Concerns are being widely expressed. For the Government to settle for the lower target is very regrettable. I shall listen with interest to what the noble Lord has to say in giving the reasoning behind the Government's refusal to accept the amendment.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, I would like to make a general point. It is relatively easy to establish standards for new buildings and dwellings which would reduce considerably the amount of energy necessary to heat them. The Minister's department has progressively tightened up on that—indeed, when I was Environment Secretary many years ago, we were already working on that. That is one of the main instruments whereby one can reduce carbon emissions in the domestic sector. However, that only takes one so far, because the vast majority of buildings are in existence.

This is to some extent linked to issues of fuel poverty. Very often those in fuel poverty, who find the greatest difficulty in paying their energy bills, are least able to invest in the kind of measures that are necessary to reduce their energy consumption. The Minister's department therefore operates a series of policies to try to target people in those circumstances and offer them free help with insulation and other measures.

My inquiries have elicited that when Defra seeks to identify specific groups of people who might be the target of advertising or individual approaches to tell them what is on offer for instance people suffering from disabilities, on certain benefits or suffering from particular health problems, such as asthma the other authorities involved, including the social services and health authorities, point blank refuse to give Defra information about those people. The department is left with only general, blanket advertising—leaflets into letterboxes and television advertisements and so on. It is impossible for it to target the information about the help and the subsidies available because other parts of government, for reasons which as a former Secretary of State for Health and Social Security I entirely understand, are precluded from handing over information that might help Defra.

I suspect that when the targets were set for emissions and fuel poverty, it was hoped that there would be a much bigger programme of assisted insulation, if I may so describe it, through targeting vulnerable groups. I suspect that the Minister and his department, because they find themselves unable to do this, have perforce been driven to reduce the targets.

It would help the House if the Minister could indicate how the Government intend to address the problem. There are far more—"millions—of existing dwellings which could benefit, both from the point of view of the comfort of the inhabitants and from that of emissions, which is addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra's amendment, if somehow they could be targeted. This has not happened and therefore the targets have had to be reduced; that seems to me a pity.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I have some sympathy for many of the points made, but I do not think that this is an appropriate amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, referred to the activities of Members in another place, signing EDMs and press releases. Well, that is what they do, but it is not the basis for us legislating. We must decide what is appropriate to put in legislation and which piece of legislation it is appropriate to put it in. That is what we are debating under this amendment.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I am somewhat mystified by that, because clearly some Members of the Committee had a change of heart. That is why I raised the matter—"it was not a flippant thing. Two Members subsequently voted in a different fashion from the way in which they had voted in Committee, which is why noble Lords should be aware of what went on.

12.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble Baroness has been in politics for enough time to know that a vote is a vote at the point at which it is taken, and that is what changes the nature of the Bill. The argument in Committee about why we should not put this provision here was partly concerned with the issue of duplication. There is already a requirement in the Sustainable Energy Act that we set an aim. It is the size of that aim that is under dispute, but we already have the obligation to set it.

The aim was set at 4.2 million tonnes of carbon savings in the energy efficiency action progress policy to which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred. I recognise that there is some disappointment that the figure is not as high as the 5 million tonnes of carbon mentioned in the Energy White Paper. Of course, when we come to legislate, we are under an obligation to ensure that that has happened and that we are confident of the measures for that to happen. Looking at the existing measures, including some new ones, 4.2 million tonnes is a more realistic figure—as I said in the earlier debate on Amendment No. 8.

We have also considered the other aspects of energy efficiency in the White Paper. Particularly because of the adoption of the energy efficiency commitment in a forward period during the next six years, we considered that some of those targets could be raised. The total contribution of energy efficiency towards matching supply and demand and reducing carbon is actually higher than was set out in the White Paper. Presumably, noble Lords would not object to that and nor would the industry or the campaigners on these fronts. It is important to recognise that we must be realistic about the time-scale in which different parts of the energy efficiency programme can meet those objectives.

I turn now to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin's point about the stock and the flow of buildings. Clearly, it is easier to build in better energy efficiency measures in new and refurbished buildings than it is to address the stock of buildings. That is why progress on that front is perhaps a bit slower than people would otherwise hope. That is partly reflected in the fairly robust calculation used to reach the 4.2 million tonnes figure for the United Kingdom as a whole.

I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin referred to the fuel poverty programme, although some of the things that he said on that are not right. Clearly the fuel poverty programme makes a significant contribution to energy efficiency. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, noticed that in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Statement on Monday there was a significant increase in the resources allocated to Defra for the fuel poverty programme. This should help us to get closer to the targets for taking people out of fuel poverty but also, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin says, have an energy efficiency effect. It will help us to increase resources for energy efficiency.

The Government are committed to putting more resources into these fields. Nevertheless, it is the case that by 2010 our best guess of how far existing policies can take us on the building front is 4.2 million tonnes of carbon saving. However, there is a better picture on the industrial, commercial and public sector aspects of energy efficiency savings.

I would like to correct, for the record, one other thing that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin said. It is true that there are some inhibitions in the passing over of information from health authorities and social services to other government departments. However, with the agreement of the householder that information can be passed on. In many local authorities, there is an arrangement whereby names are passed on from the health services to the scheme managers of the fuel poverty programme. As far as possible under the understandable restrictions other departments of government are involved—local authorities and health authorities in particular—in passing on information where the householder agrees.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, I am grateful for that—it is helpful—but can the Minister indicate what proportion of vulnerable households can be approached through those joint arrangements? My information is that it is very few of them and that most of the authorities do not agree to give the information.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct that performance on that front is patchy, but in those health authorities where it has been pursued more than in others, there is a significant number. The gateway to the receipt of fuel poverty help is through benefits information and through application. The attention of households is drawn to these provisions by a number of interfaces with public bodies. Health authorities and the Department of Health have asked all their bodies to ensure that people are aware of these facilities. Health visitors and social workers can pass on the information, but only with the explicit agreement of the householder. That would not measure the total number of applications because they are quite often made at the suggestion of a health visitor or social worker, but it is the householder who applies.

So there is joined-up government in this regard. It is not as good as it should be, but the fuel poverty programme has been over-subscribed. We still have a long way to go to deal with everyone who comes in through the system and is identified by the various other services.

The House should recognise that the total contribution of energy efficiency reflected in the energy efficiency action plan is more ambitious than in the White Paper. We are being sensible in ensuring that the individual subsections are robust and cautious because we are dealing with a statutory obligation. Certainly, as Patricia Hewitt said, we would wish to go further on all fronts, but we think we can reasonably guarantee that this one will be met. We have therefore included that as our obligation for specifying the statutory aim.

Both for the reason that this is not a rolling back of the contribution of energy efficiency to our energy policy—quite the reverse—and for the reason that there is already an obligation in another piece of legislation, I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue his amendment.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, he did not accept in his reply that setting the lower target may well discourage people from achieving a higher target. I am quite surprised that the Government are reluctant to accept the amendment because it will send out the wrong vibes to the wider audience out there. I am most disappointed. I shall wait to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has to say. In truth, I do not think the Minister has answered the questions put to him as to whether the higher figure should be accepted.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I am also very disappointed that the Minister has not been able to accept the amendment. When the figures for energy saving were published in the energy White Paper, the proposals were enthusiastically supported by all those who follow these matters and were, of course, many times reiterated by Ministers and senior officials.

This is, indeed, an objective; it should be restated as an objective and we should know what we are doing to achieve it. I quite agree that the Government have so planned matters that overall energy saving could be rather larger than first envisaged, but there is notorious inefficiency in the use of energy in the domestic sector and a determined effort has to be made to improve it. Inserting the amendment in this important Bill would have galvanised efforts. However, the Bill contains many measures that we strongly support and I do not wish to delay it in any way. So, with much regret, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 8A, as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 8, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Motion agreed to.