HL Deb 16 November 2004 vol 666 cc1396-9

191 Insert the following new Clause—

"Improvements in energy efficiency

(1) For the purposes of—

  1. (a) improving the energy efficiency of residential accommodation;
  2. 1397
  3. (b) increasing the comfort level of occupants of residential accommodation; and
  4. (c) alleviating fuel poverty,
the Secretary of State shall take reasonable steps to ensure an increase in residential energy efficiency of at least 20% by 2010 based upon 2000 levels.

(2) In this section—

"fuel poverty" has the same meaning as in the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 (c. 31); and

"residential energy efficiency" means the energy efficiency of residential accommodation."

The Commons disagree to this Amendment for the following Reason

191A Because it involves a charge on public funds, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient

Lord Bassam of Brighton rose to move, That this House do not insist on its Amendment No. 191 to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason No. 191A, but do propose the following amendments in lieu thereof—

191B After Clause 187, insert the following new Clause—

"Energy efficiency of residential accommodation: England

(1) The Secretary of State must take reasonable steps to ensure that by 2010 the general level of energy efficiency of residential accommodation in England has increased by at least 20 per cent compared with the general level of such energy efficiency in 2000.

(2) Nothing in this section affects the duties of the Secretary of State under section 2 of the Sustainable Energy Act 2003 (c. 30) (energy efficiency aim in respect of residential accommodation in England).

(3) In this section "residential accommodation" has the meaning given by section 1 of the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 (c. 10)."

191C Clause 231, page 171, line 15, after "186," insert "(Energy efficiency of residential accommodation: England),"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the House will recall that, on Commons consideration of Lords amendments, the other place disagreed with Amendment No. 191, which placed a duty on the Secretary of State to take reasonable steps to ensure an increase in residential energy efficiency of at least 20 per cent by 2010 based on year 2000 levels.

The Government have given further consideration to Amendment No. 191. We continue to take the view that its effect will be broadly in line with that of existing policies on residential energy efficiency and that there has been no retreat on the Government's part. However, we recognise the strength of feeling on the issue. We still believe that duties based on specific numerical figures are inflexible and are better avoided in primary legislation. But we have decided to accede to the principle of the amendment as providing some comfort that the Government stand by the energy efficiency aim they have declared. I hope that the House will see this as a significant concession and as evidence that the Government listen.

Amendment No. 191 is not technically suitable as it stands for insertion into the Bill. For that reason, the Government have tabled Amendment No. 191B in its stead. The definition of "residential accommodation" in Amendment No. 191 B mirrors that of the Sustainable Energy Act 2003 to bring it into line with the designated aims and subsection (2) clarifies that this duty does not affect the duty to designate an aim under that Act.

Amendment No. 191C, which amends Clause 231—the commencement clause—provides that the new clause introduce by Amendment No. 19IB will come into force two months from the date of Royal Assent. I therefore invite your Lordships to agree to Amendments Nos. 191B and 191C.

Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 191, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 191A, but do propose Amendments Nos. 191B and 191C in lieu thereof.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

Lord Monson

My Lords, I do not want to detain the House for more than a minute at this hour, but feel I must return to a question I raised at the previous stage which was not answered.

I accept that the objectives of this amendment, which is now in modified form a government amendment, are attainable in respect of new housing because regulations can be made. However, they cannot possibly be attained in respect of the existing housing stock, which is much larger, without either coercion or bribery—by that, I mean either tax breaks or subsidies of some kind—because no one will spend a lot of money on insulation they do not want without one or the other. The question is: which is it to be?

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, I was waiting for the Minister to reply to that question. He was asked it previously but he is not going to answer.

Baroness Maddock

My Lords, in that case, I will speak to the amendment. We thank the Government for tabling a better amendment than we tabled on the previous occasion. It is important because the Minister will remember that at our first meeting on the Housing Bill I pointed out a weak area. Although there are many good proposals in the Bill, the Government had failed to take the opportunity to emphasise the importance of energy efficiency in our domestic properties. As the months and weeks have passed while we have been sitting on the Bill, discussions about climate change here and elsewhere in the world have raged on. It is therefore important that the provision is included here and I appreciate that the Government are committed to it in other Bills.

On a personal note, my noble friend Lady Hamwee and I like the new subsection (3) in particular. I sponsored the Home Energy Conservation Act in the other place and my noble friend dealt with it in this House. I also dealt with the Sustainable Energy Act when it reached this House. However, it is disappointing that, given the Government's commitment now, they were not able to concede to the earlier amendment. It is completely in line with what we are trying to do.

9 p.m.

In terms of other comments that have been made about the proposal, and coercion and bribery, it is worth pointing out that those who provide energy in our homes are also concerned with conserving energy. They wonder where in future years they will find enough sources of fuel to keep us all warm. That is why they have gone along with much of what the Government have done in attempting to help people to insulate their homes.

This is important, particularly for my children, grandchildren and future generations. If we do not do something about energy efficiency and the way in which we use energy, we will destroy the planet for those future generations. That is why this is important. I thank the Government for including it in the Housing Bill. It improves and completes a very satisfactory response from the Government not only to this measure but also to the many other measures that we have asked them to include.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, the increase is to the general level here. It is not specific to new build or otherwise. It is a broader benefit that does not just apply to new houses that come on stream. It is not about bribery; it is not about coercion. As the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said, it is about providing for the future and ensuring that we use energy efficiency savings wisely; that we invest in energy wisely; and that we conserve energy wisely, so that future generations will have access to sources of energy. That is something to which we will increasingly have to turn.

Lord Monson

My Lords, those are wholly admirable objectives. I do not dissent for one second. But how will the Government get existing householders who do not want to spend money on improving the insulation of their houses to do so? I suspect that it is in fact bribery, which perhaps I may say is an entirely acceptable and respectable thing to do in view of what we are trying to achieve. The Commons originally disagreed to the amendment on the grounds that it would involve a charge on public funds. So I suspect that a charge on public funds is probably what the Government have in mind.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, it is about encouragement. I recently received from my local authority a form asking me if I wanted to insulate my loft. That information comes through one's door. It makes perfectly good sense. Therefore, one follows a logical course of action. No doubt we will turn to improvements to loft insulation in due course because those things are to the general good. As government, we have a responsibility to encourage people to act responsibly in those circumstances. Picturing it as bribery or corruption is obviously rather silly. I am sure that the noble Lord does not mean that at all. But it is something which we can all hope that future generations will share the benefit of.

On Question, Motion agreed to.