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Planning and Energy Bill

Volume 470: debated on Friday 25 January 2008

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

I am grateful for the wide support that the Bill has received, not only from my co-sponsors from all parts of the House, but from those councils at the forefront of good energy practice, the Local Government Association and our energy industry, which is ready and willing to help meet the challenge of climate change.

This is not a big Bill, but it does one important thing: it will enshrine in law, I hope, the so-called Merton rule, which I shall describe in more detail. Back in 2003, the London borough of Merton adopted in its local planning documents the policy that, for new developments, at least 10 per cent. of the new energy required must come from renewable or low-carbon sources on or near that development. The aim was to reduce the amount of energy that had to be brought in from miles away and to encourage microgeneration and more energy-efficient buildings, which would use less energy in the first place.

The Bill therefore gives Merton-style planning policies statutory protection. I should emphasise that it does not compel other councils to follow Merton, although around 100 are doing that. I should add—perhaps because the ghost of our late colleague Eric Forth seems to haunt this place on Fridays—that the Bill does not compel anybody to do anything. What it does is to put on the statute book the ability of a council to adopt a Merton-style policy, if it wants to do so. Without the Bill, councils will be left uncertain as to whether the policies that they adopt will remain legal.

Nothing illustrates that uncertainty better than the shifting position of central Government since Merton originally adopted its policy. I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box, but Ministers have blown hot and cold on Merton policies. First they encouraged Merton; then last summer we heard a new draft planning policy statement that seemed to back off. It looked as though borough-wide policies might be excluded or even that off-site energy might be included. Then last month, three weeks after I had sent a copy of the Bill to the then Minister, the latest text of the planning policy statement appeared, which said that borough-wide policies could be included and that off-site energy supplies would definitely be excluded.

I welcome that improvement, but there has been too much to-ing and fro-ing, and we are still not clear about what central Government’s final position will be. We now have the guidance to follow that planning policy statement, and all the lobbying and counter-lobbying will begin all over again. The whole point of the Bill is to get away from all that and give councils the certainty that they need, so that they are no longer dependent upon a supportive Minister or at the mercy of the latest lobbying of No. 10. The Bill therefore sets out, very simply, that councils can—not must, but can—set a minimum requirement for local energy generation and energy efficiency standards that are higher than the minimum.

The big volume house builders would of course prefer a single set of rules for the whole country; but I want to be clear to the House that I would not be promoting the Bill if I thought that it would inhibit the future development of new affordable housing.

Will my hon. Friend take it from me, at the user end in the rapidly expanding town of Daventry, that I can recall no objections from home owners or purchasers to the use of enhanced planning powers? Nor have I encountered any representations from the developers who are developing the town about the difficulty of meeting the council’s requirement.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and, even more, for bringing forward the Bill, which I very much support. Its origins lie partly in the difficulties that Cambridge city council encountered in setting policies higher than the national standard. Does he agree that it is no objection to the Bill that it might lead to different standards? There is already a different standard between publicly supported house building and the private sector, because on the social housing side, the Housing Corporation already requires higher standards. One could therefore argue that the Bill will allow the same standard to be set for all sorts of housing.

I am sure that that is true. The hon. Gentleman makes a helpful point. I am well aware of Cambridge city council’s position on this. Of course, a borough-wide policy sets a more even standard than the setting of individual requirements for individual developments within a borough or city.

I would not be promoting this Bill if I thought that it would inhibit housing generally. I have made inquiries of Merton borough council, and it has assured me that no developer has ever had any difficulty in coping with its requirements. Let us look at the facts. Merton’s policy is four years old, and its housing target—set by the Greater London authority—states that it must build 430 new homes each year. Since the policy was adopted in 2003, the actual annual totals of new homes constructed in Merton have been 484, 497, 546 and 528. So there is no evidence there that the policy inhibits the growth of new housing.

I rise to support my hon. Friend’s point, having been a councillor in Merton before being elected to this place. I support the forward thinking of the council in introducing that measure, which was unusual for the time. I should like to confirm that there have been no problems with the planning procedure or with the building of new houses there.

The House has just heard the voice of Merton, and my hon. Friend fully supports the position that I have just set out.

Let us also remember that the percentage for new housing set by Merton is not 90 per cent. or 80 per cent. or even 75 per cent. It is only 10 per cent. So this measure cannot be something that will over-excite the volume house builders. Indeed, some other house builders have told me that they can achieve a premium for houses built under these policies, and that they have no difficulty in doing so.

Let me turn to some of the specific issues raised in the Bill. I want to emphasise that I am very happy to meet any concerns about the drafting of any part of clause 1 in Committee, if the House allows the Bill to proceed today. In respect of the definition of part of the proposed development, of course I want it to include near-site as well as on-site, provided that that is connected to the development. I also want to assure developers that this must involve a dedicated supply. They would not necessarily be required to supply energy over a much wider area.

The provision in clause 1(c) will incentivise councils to reach beyond the minimum building standards, and of course I should like to see that aligned with Government policy on the code for renewable energy. I also want to point out that, as set out at the beginning of clause 1, the whole of my Bill is subject to the test of reasonableness. Developers and house builders will not—cannot—be required to do anything that is unreasonable. In any event, they will be fully consulted in the drawing up of the local development plans to which my Bill refers.

In the final analysis, Ministers will still have control. It is for Ministers to approve local development plans, and when individual planning applications are taken to appeal the Secretary of State sends her inspectors in to rule on them. I am therefore disappointed that I have not yet heard that Ministers are fully supportive of the Bill, especially as it is they who want all new homes to be zero-carbon by 2016. That is only eight years away, after all. I want local councils to help us to meet that challenge. I fear, however, that Ministers still think that can be done by central prescription.

This is not a big Bill, but it involves a clear difference of approach. Ministers seem to want circulars, statements and guidance; they seem to want revision after revision and draft after draft.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the Bill, which, as he knows, has support on both sides of the House. He has just referred to the attitude of Ministers, and it is mysterious that there seems to be a lack of clarity in that regard. Presumably, he has had discussions with Ministers about the Government’s approach to the Bill. Has he been encouraged or discouraged by those discussions?

I do not want to refer too much to private meetings, but yes, the House should know that I have had discussions with Ministers. As soon as I had finalised the draft of my Bill, I thought it right and courteous to send a copy to the Minister concerned, and I did so in November. There was a subsequent meeting. I claim no particular prescience, but one of the points that I made at that meeting was that Ministers come and go. Last night, that Minister went, which is a little unfortunate.

There is a point to that. Circulars are succeeded by other circulars, and guidance is succeeded by other guidance. A planning policy statement, even when finalised, will be succeeded in two or three years by another planning policy statement. My Bill backs a better route. It puts councils in the driving seat. It also encourages a measure of competition by emulation. More than 100 other councils have already followed Merton’s lead.

My council has a problem that I am sure is common to many rural councils. Does my hon. Friend think that his Bill would be capable of amendment in Committee to address the anomaly whereby people living in areas of outstanding natural beauty who wish to put a solar panel on their roof have to pay £135 and apply for full planning permission? People who do not live in an AONB do not have to do that, as long as their roof does not face a road. Such details present a real disincentive. Does my hon. Friend believe that we could address that matter in Committee?

Yes, I do. That is exactly the kind of issue that the Committee stage is designed for. We could certainly look at that kind of detail, and at some other issues, such as new building in agricultural and conservation areas, where some of these targets and requirements might be harder to meet. Those matters can certainly be taken up in Committee, and perhaps my hon. Friend would like to take part in that by agreeing to serve on the Committee if the Bill makes progress today.

As I have said, the Bill takes a different approach. The last Minister said that she backed local power schemes. The Bill backs local powers. If we are to meet the challenge of climate change, this cannot just be a matter for central Government. We need to have our local communities out in front, helping to meet that challenge. We are all in this together, and I urge the House to back localism and give the Bill a Second Reading.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) on coming first in the ballot and, even more importantly, on choosing this issue as the subject for his Bill, which I wholeheartedly support. Perhaps that is no surprise, as it is remarkably similar to my private Member’s Bill of last year. It has a much snappier title, however, and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on that. When my Bill fell by the wayside, I sought to achieve exactly the same objectives through an amendment to the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, although that attempt also sadly failed.

My objectives are exactly the same as those set out in the short Bill before us today. It is an enabling measure. As the hon. Gentleman said, it would not make anyone do anything. It would free local authorities to help to combat climate change using planning policy. It would allow councils to set higher standards for energy efficiency in their development plans than those laid down in building regulations, and allow them to make provision for sustainable energy and microgeneration requirements in the same document.

That approach has wide support across the House. An early-day motion supporting this kind of legislation was signed by more than 300 Members last year. It also has wide support outside the House, from local government, the sustainable energy partnerships, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Socialist Environment and Resources Association and, of course, from its primary supporters, the Association for the Conservation of Energy and the Micropower Council.

The Bill is about empowerment, but it is also about encouragement. Climate change is undoubtedly the greatest challenge facing the planet now—perhaps the greatest challenge that it has ever faced. We need every level of government, including local government, to play its part in meeting that challenge. Following the lead of councils such as Woking and Merton, this Bill points planning authorities in the right direction of setting high environmental standards for new developments, residential and non-residential alike.

This Government’s policy of making all new homes zero-carbon by 2016—and the Prime Minister’s proposal for new eco-communities—is excellent and we should all support it, but to turn the concept into reality, we need more examples of low and zero-carbon homes than the present small number of experimental buildings, including those about to be constructed. We need them very soon and local authorities can, if enabled to do so, make that happen in planning policy development. As the Government’s renewables advisory board said in November:

“The zero carbon policy is longsighted and bold and could produce big environmental benefits in existing and new homes if it is used to accelerate the development of decentralised energy services and technology. However”—

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I would like to record Plaid Cymru’s full support for the Bill and the principles enshrined within it. I would like to ask him about what may seem a technical constitutional point, but we are talking about decentralising power. Does he agree that it would be worth looking further in Committee into conferring framework powers on the National Assembly, which could be a better means of achieving the Bill’s objectives in Wales?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very good point. He knows that, as a fellow Member representing a constituency in Wales, I am a committed devolutionist. I realise that the Bill talks about England and Wales, but the most appropriate way to move forward, especially given that the Minister with responsibility for planning is currently consulting on combating climate change, would be to provide for those framework powers in the Bill.

I am curious why the hon. Gentleman believes that the Government will not support the Bill. We have seen not a twitch from the Minister, yet at a time when the UK has been set a 17 per cent. target for renewable energy and we are achieving only 2 per cent. can the hon. Gentleman think of any reason why his party in government will not support this excellent Bill?

I think I know what the Government will say—that the ground is already covered in planning policy statements—but I shall come on to say that I do not accept that. When my Bill and amendments were up for discussion, I met Ministers and their civil servants many times, but I never really received a satisfactory answer to the question that the hon. Gentleman has just put to me.

Let me continue to quote what the renewables advisory board said:

“However the Government’s current timescale postpones much of the hard work until 2016, with little opportunity to learn or build capacity in the UK onsite renewables sector in the next eight years. If left unaddressed this could slow house building but we think there are options to overcome this supply gap. This includes using the planning system to require earlier uptake of renewable energy in larger housing developments.”

Up until now, there has been great uncertainty in local government about whether it can or cannot set higher standards. The Bill’s supporters certainly advocate that it should.

Government planning inspectors responsible for overseeing the development plan process have sent out extremely mixed messages. For example, Reading was allowed to specify thermal performance requirements at least 12 per cent. higher than required in building regulations, but Cambridge was made to water down its planning policy, which required large developers to provide evidence of how they had minimised energy consumption and maximised energy efficiency and to consider the feasibility of using combined heat and power systems. To that, the planning inspector said that it was

“unreasonable to the extent that it imposes more onerous requirements than the Building Regulations”.

The same line was taken by the Government office for the east of England when Bedford borough council wanted to reduce CO2 emissions by 10 per cent. more than in the building regulations in certain developments. We need clarity and active encouragement for ambitious standard setting.

We are now in a different position from last year because we have the planning policy statement on climate change published in December. That was welcome and certainly moves us in the right direction of travel. It says that councils will be expected to provide for onsite renewables and local community energy schemes to cut carbon emissions in new developments. In the Department for Communities and Local Government press release and, indeed, in letters to myself and other Members, it is claimed that the PPS builds on the Merton rule, which requires all new non-residential developments above a certain size to generate at least 10 per cent. of their energy on site from renewable sources. Then there is the Mayor of London’s plan to double the renewables share of UK electricity supply from the 2010 target of 10 per cent. to 20 per cent. by 2020. That all sounds very good and I suspect that the Minister will argue that there is consequently no need to enact the Bill.

Unfortunately, I do not believe that. The problem is that the policy statement is unlikely to match in achievement the rhetoric that has accompanied it. It contains too many caveats and hurdles to jump over, which will put off all but the most committed local authorities from going for higher standards in their development plans, and it provides loopholes for developers. In reading it, I gained the impression that minimising carbon emissions through planning policy comes a poor second to making development happen. When they set their targets, councils have to

“have regard to the overall costs of bringing sites to the market (including the costs of any necessary support infrastructure) and the need to avoid any adverse impact on the development needs of communities”.

In respect of housing development and when setting development area or site-specific expectations, councils need to

“demonstrate that the proposed approach is consistent with securing the expected supply and pace of housing development shown in the housing trajectory required by the Housing Planning Policy Statement of 2006.”

My real fear is that those conditions will be used by some planning inspectors to overrule provision in some local development plans for challenging targets for renewables or other carbon reduction requirements. My even greater fear is that it will deter planning authorities from being as ambitious as they would like. I am also still concerned about the provision for off-site generation of green energy by a developer instead of the on-site generation stipulated in Merton. If that approach is chosen by developers, as I suspect it often will be, we will end up utilising renewables that would have been built anyway, so it does not, in the end, increase green energy capacity. That said, much in the PPS is good and I wish it well, but I do not accept that it obviates the need for this Bill to become law.

Underlying the resistance to this measure—and, indeed, the caveats in the PPS—is a fear of what councils will do if they are empowered in the way we want them to be. That fear is misplaced and wrong-headed. Councils will not want to deter economic development within their own boundaries, nor prevent the provision of new homes for their citizens. They will weigh up all the factors and set realistic and measured targets. We need reflect only on how things have worked out in green leader councils such as Merton, Woking, Croydon, Knowsley, Calderdale, Sefton, Norwich and many others that the hon. Member for Sevenoaks mentioned to see that this can be done—and done responsibly. Indeed, in making the case for my Bill last year, we asked DCLG officials to provide us with evidence of local authorities that had prevented progress by setting higher environmental standards. We are still waiting for those examples.

I hope that this Bill receives its Second Reading today. Yes, it will need to be amended in Committee to address Government concerns, but I am sure that it can provide a useful weapon in combating climate change. We should not reject it.

It is a pleasure to speak in favour of the Bill. The House is rightly focused on the issues of climate change and planning, which is exactly what the Bill does in highlighting those two critical issues.

I welcome the three main objectives set out in the Bill. Hon. Members will have noticed that clause 1 states that a local planning authority

“may…specify that any person making an application for planning permission should include such reasonable provision”,

going on to list the three areas in which it applies. I emphasise the word “may”, which means that the Bill is not prescriptive, but provides local authorities with the flexibility they need to implement policies that are appropriate to their areas. Broadly speaking, we are all supportive of that and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has repeatedly stated the importance of allowing local authorities to take their own decisions.

The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton), who ran with the issue before—I hope that this Bill receives more success—said that the Bill makes nobody do anything. Normally, I would object to that in principle, but in this case it is entirely right, as the Bill provides flexibility to local authorities. The Bill sets out the powers that a local authority would have to specify the generation of energy from renewable sources, the generation of low-carbon energy and an appropriate and more challenging energy efficiency standard for any proposed development in its area.

The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) rightly indicated that the Bill might require refinement, as is often the case with private Members’ Bills. Regrettably, Back-Bench Members do not have the same level of resource as Ministers when they prepare Bills. This process should provide the opportunity to refine the Bill if the Minister feels that it is not as precise as it should be.

All Members will appreciate why the Bill is needed. Since 1997, CO2 emissions have gone up. Far from tackling what is, in the words of the Government’s chief scientific adviser, the “biggest challenge we face”—a real global threat—we have seen CO2 emissions rising. The Bill would help in that respect.

The Bill would also counter the potential impact of the Planning Bill. I do not know how closely Members have been following that Bill, but part of it would set up the infrastructure planning commission. If the Government get their way, the IPC will authorise up to 50 large-scale infrastructure projects a year. There is a real concern that the safeguards in that Bill in relation to environmental issues are weak. The IPC might allow through a raft of significant developments such as nuclear power stations or airports, which will have a very negative impact on climate change. This Bill will counterbalance that by tackling CO2 emissions in local developments.

This Bill will also help the Government face the very tough task of meeting the targets set by the European Union. Other Members will have looked at the research paper helpfully produced by the Library, and will be as familiar as I am with the table on page 10 setting out the UK’s achievement in generating electricity from renewable energy in comparison with other EU countries. I am afraid to say that the UK performs very badly. A few countries are doing worse than we are—Malta, which has no figures, Estonia, Belgium and Poland. But the list of countries doing better than the UK includes the Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Sweden and Austria. The UK is performing exceedingly poorly in providing more electricity from renewable sources.

The Bill is also necessary because it allows local authorities to introduce tougher energy efficiency standards. Again, our performance in that regard is, I am afraid, pathetic. Members are probably sick to death of references to BedZED, a zero-energy development in my constituency. Its first occupiers moved in four years ago, but it is still an exemplar of its type. All aspects of the development, from using recycled materials in its construction, through to triple glazing and the highest energy efficiency standards, with green roofs and so on, minimise energy use. I remember BioRegional, the developers, coming to my surgery nearly nine years ago, and yet the UK has made little progress since then.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the evidence from the continent, particularly Germany, is that when large numbers of new homes with microgeneration and substantial energy efficiency measures are built, the cost comes down dramatically? The Government should therefore be far more resistant to the lobbying calls of the big house builders, and far more open to a substantial increase in such build, so that we can get the economies of scale and the energy savings that would offset the extra building costs.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend’s comments. More imagination is also required to allow certain smaller schemes to go ahead. Russell Smith, a constituent of mine, gutted his brick-built semi-detached property, which is typical of the UK housing stock that will be with us probably for the next 50, 60 or 70 years, and installed a range of insulation measures, panels and so on to demonstrate how a property of the type that most people live in could be transformed suitably into an energy-efficient dwelling. He was frustrated in his attempt to get permission to install a small combined heat and power plant, and ended up having to give up on that, as it proved too complex. We need to look at what is happening abroad and ensure that we are more flexible in our approach.

It is a regret not that the Merton rule exists but that it is called the Merton rule. It is significant that one local authority in the UK has given us the name Merton rule as a way of describing local authorities that are taking the lead environmentally. I doubt very much whether Germany has something called the Munich rule or the Hamburg rule, because all local authorities there are involved, and there is no need to point to one local authority that is way in advance of all the others.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but is it not encouraging that so many other councils in the country are adopting the Merton rule—well over 100? Does that not provide further evidence of support among the local authority community for the Bill that we are debating?

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman’s comments. Many other local authorities are following Merton’s lead and taking the lead in other respects in relation to the environment. Many of those authorities, whether Merton or my local authority, Sutton, which is the neighbouring borough to Merton, have been mentioned today. It is still significant, however, that we often think of individual authorities taking the lead. In many respects, the energy efficiency standards or building regulations are deficient or at least not challenging enough.

The Bill addresses energy efficiency standards and clears up the uncertainty that surrounds the Merton rule. In response to a number of questions and interventions, DCLG Ministers have given assurances that there is no threat to the Merton rule. The experience on the ground, however, is that some local authorities find it difficult, or are reluctant to use it, to provide the level of renewable energy provided in Merton.

I do not want to detain the House any longer. I want to see the Bill proceed. It is a short Bill that would make a huge difference to the UK’s ability to tackle CO2 emissions and climate change, and I hope that it will receive its Second Reading today.

It is customary to congratulate the Member who wins the ballot. I have always wondered why we do that—I would rather have won the ballot myself—but I do congratulate the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) on choosing this topic. I was happy to lend my name to this brief, modest and reasonable Bill.

The Bill calls for a bit of reverse engineering in our approach to tackling the challenge of climate change, rather than leaving everything to top-down targets without thinking about the mechanisms that are needed on the ground floor. The very first word—“enable”—is probably the most important. The Bill is intended not to tell, not to spend, not to force, but to enable. It contains another word that I hesitate to mention, the word “reasonable”. I know that we can spend hours, weeks and years in this place debating what it means to be reasonable, and I hope we will not get into the semantics now, but I think that the intention in this instance is more than clear.

We sometimes underestimate the hugeness of the challenge of climate change to our politics, our public institutions, to private business and to our personal behaviour. It covers the waterfront. Ipsos MORI recently published a review of the year which I think was sent to Members, although I was not able to lay hands on it yesterday. One of the centre-spreads featured attitudes to climate change. The general conclusion was that people in Britain now accept that there is a problem and accept that human behaviour is making a difference, which was not the case five or 10 years ago. When it comes to dealing with the problem, however, a gulf emerges. The survey exposed the fact that apart from doing a little bit of, dare I say, recycling—perhaps changing light bulbs—most of us are “armchair environmentalists”. We demand that the Government do something rather than doing anything ourselves, while issuing the caveat that whatever the Government propose we will oppose, and thus we make no progress whatever. The purpose of the Bill is not to focus on the great big problem and leave it nebulous, or to ask the Government to do everything, but to concentrate on what local government can do and enable it to build in the capacity to meet its targets.

I approved of what the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) said in his intervention. We ought to acknowledge that local authorities are getting ahead of the Government on this issue, and engage in a stronger dialogue with them about what they can achieve at ground-floor and local-community level. The aim of the Merton rule, which has been widely known and accepted for more than four years and has been copied by over 100 local authorities, is to persuade developers to obtain at least 10 per cent. of any new building energy from renewable sources.

I know about the BedZED project, but there are quite a few other projects scattered across Britain. There are combined heat and power and energy-efficiency projects, and experimental schemes initiated by architects going all the way back to Susan Rolfe’s experimental house with solar panels in Oxford. Such development is patchy, however. The Bill is intended to achieve some co-ordination so that best practice can be shared, and authorities can learn about what is going on elsewhere and proceed in a positive fashion.

The Bill also allows for much more trials. Even in the case of BedZED, things often do not work quite as one would like because they have not been tried before.

I jotted down a phrase that the hon. Gentleman used earlier. He said that what was needed was more imagination, political and practical. We also need to take more cognisance of developments in science and technology, and experiment a bit more. It might mean failing some of the time, but we might also achieve our aims more quickly. The 10 per cent. target will be hard to achieve without co-ordinated action on the part of all local authorities.

The Bill’s purpose is to enable all local authorities to set renewable and low-energy targets for new developments. That could apply not just to individual buildings, but to complexes. Without the Bill, I can envisage the game being played in the opposite way. Without a mandate to get on with meeting the 10 per cent. target, it could be challenged by people who would say “We will hold up the planning process because you are trying to suggest that we do something that we know we do not have to do.” The whole process could be stalled and blocked by authorities pulling us in the opposite direction from the best-practice councils gathered around Merton.

Let me pursue the point made by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) about imagination. When I was Minister for Energy and Industry between 1997 and 1999, we published a report on renewable energy. It did not quite catch the zeitgeist—I am pleased that we have moved on in the past 10 years—but at the time I went to Northumberland to see a project on a council estate consisting of about 3,000 houses. The developers had adopted almost a traditional village-green approach: using brilliant engineering and science, they had managed to blend in a complex of renewable microgeneration in the centre of the estate, using energy from waste, wind power and biomass. Rather than depending on a wind farm, which would produce nothing when the wind did not blow, they were able to “cross-reference” energy sources.

That approach has not been considered more widely. In general, people are opting for single-issue solutions. Given that there is no single source of energy that could be described as perfectly pure and green, why not blend sources together and create new possibilities like the developers of that estate in Northumberland, which was kept warm by a complex of renewable energy sources?

Hospital waste cannot be buried. I had a furious row with some “deep greens” who said “We cannot burn hospital waste.” Well, hospital waste must be burnt, but why not install a combined-heat-and-power station in the hospital and use energy from the waste to heat it? That has already been done at St James’s University hospital in my city. We need more imaginative application at local level if we are to get anywhere near our targets.

It has been said that the Bill is about individual buildings. I think back to that community in the north-east, because in my view the Bill should be about communities. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) mentioned cost. In Leeds there are still rows and rows of terraced houses—classic terraced streets with washing hanging across them—but their ownership is mixed. A terraced house there could be owner-occupied, owned by a landlord, or a council miscellaneous property. In the past, if new roofs were needed it was not a case of putting a roof on one house, leaving a gap because a roof could not be afforded for the next house, putting on another roof, leaving another couple of gaps, putting on another roof and so on all along the terrace. There was a scheme enabling the whole terrace to be repaired—roofs, doors and windows. It was called “enveloping”.

The same system could be applied to renewable energy, including solar energy for heating water. I know that January has not been a brilliant month for sunshine, but although most people do not realise it, what is needed for solar energy is not bright sunshine but light in general. We could improve whole communities and rebuild neighbourhoods: we could build renewable energy into neighbourhoods.

I am still thinking in terms of imagination. A report published by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and Ofgem suggests that we should view the distribution of energy in Britain very differently. We should not think of the system as a grid, although it is one at present. How can we build microgeneration into it? We might not need buried cables and power lines stretching across the country in future; instead, the system could function at micro level. The Government have already made good progress, after great argument, to enable the electricity that is generated but not needed in a local community to be passed back to others through the grid.

The right hon. Gentleman is talking a great deal of sense and he will find a lot of support for what he is saying from Conservative Members. His comments are all the more important because he speaks from experience as a former Minister. Has he had the opportunity to read “Power to the People”, the Conservative policy document on microgeneration, which encapsulates much of what he says and puts some flesh on the bones of how we might achieve our aims?

I will be delighted to read anything that the Conservatives publish. I cannot say that I have read the document but if the hon. Gentleman sends me a copy, I assure him that I will read it. It is amazing to hear the Conservatives speaking of “Power to the People”. I sat on the Opposition Benches for 10 years and usually heard the opposite. However, this is not the occasion to become deeply divided politically about who is and who is not on the side of the people.

To support the right hon. Gentleman’s point about microgeneration, does he agree that the more we decentralise and devolve sources of energy, the more resilient we are likely to be in coping both with natural disasters of the sort that we saw in his county of Yorkshire last summer and with terrorist outrages? We would have a portfolio of different energy sources, none of which we would be reliant on in the totality.

I agree but perhaps the hon. Gentleman’s background motive—this also applies to the response I gave to the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker)—relates to the fact that the term “Power to the People” means engaging people so that they can be involved in formulating, building and owning the solutions to their problems. They therefore take some form of ownership. What do I mean by that? I mean that people and communities become personally engaged in microgeneration. I do not want them to do that because they fear that supplies through the gas pipeline may be cut off by the Russians; I want microgeneration to be seen as part of community building. Energy generation and waste management will have to take place in local communities and we will have to take more personal and community responsibility in the future.

One of the hallmarks of our culture is that we all watch “Neighbours” in our homes with the door shut. We know everything about Ramsay street in Australia, but no one here has a clue who lives in the flat above them or in the street alongside. What we do in neighbourhoods may play a part in rebuilding and refabricating new communities, and the energy and waste management issues will be key to that. However, let us look at that in the positive terms of building relationships and new systems rather than through acting out of fear.

On that note, I congratulate the Government on introducing eco-communities. I do not know whether the concept of eco-communities appears in the Conservative’s pamphlet, but that notion could be radically deepened and expanded. We should have a debate and engage people in this issue; otherwise they will be left only with the fantastic targets. They hear about Kyoto and Bali and they think big numbers, but then they ask themselves what they can do. They think that it is laudable that the Government are setting targets for the reduction of carbon emissions that are miles ahead of those set by everyone else, and we are about to build those targets into law through the Climate Change Bill. We are miles ahead of the rest of Europe, which is quite positive on this issue, and we have managed to get the Americans to catch up a little, but I fear that those big figures, including the one that says that we should not increase the warming of the planet by 2°C, only lead people to ask what they can do about managing the whole planet. There is a disconnection between what a person can do and the targets we are setting.

The target that all homes should be carbon zero by 2016 is laudable, and I say to the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) that I am pretty sure—perhaps the Minister can confirm this—that the Home Builders Federation is signed up to the zero-carbon targets. I do not want to set house builders against the microgenerators; I do not think that they are at odds. A conversation is going on and a consensus is building that could be useful. However, even if we have the target of zero-carbon homes by 2016, people at the ground floor level will ask what they can do about it. They need to be part of the conversation in a practical way. That is why the Bill reverse engineers the whole process. Rather than setting targets that are left there hanging nebulously, let us try to build the targets into the buildings in the new communities and address the problem through the planning system and local authorities.

I welcome the Bill and applaud the hon. Member for Stevenage for the work that he has put in. [Interruption.] Did I get the constituency of the hon. Member for Sevenoaks wrong? What did I say? [Hon. Members: “ Stevenage.”] I do apologise; Stevenage is the new town. I also applaud my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton), who has insisted that we rightly keep this issue in the forefront of our minds. Eventually, we will get there. In that spirit, I suggest that this is a modest and reasonable little Bill, and I will be surprised if the Minister says that it is not necessary and that it is all done. We have much more to do. In response to all the contributions I have heard today, I simply say that this matter will not go away. Whether the Bill does or does not go through, we have a lot of work to do to embed its spirit and intention within our communities.

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle). I was left feeling that if we are to be condemned to having a Labour Energy Minister, I rather wish that it were still him. I found myself agreeing with a great deal of what he said. I join him in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) on his good fortune in the ballot, on the pithy nature of his Bill and on the punch of his argument for its Second Reading.

I was in my hon. Friend’s shoes this time last year when I proposed the Second Reading of the Sustainable Communities Bill. In essence, that Bill was about localism and its premise was that, when it came to decisions about local communities and their future, local people knew best. I am very happy to support this Bill, because the same principle is at play here today. My Bill became an Act because it had strong cross-party support and because the central Government got comfortable with the view that it went within the grain of their localism agenda. This Bill is another test of how far the Government are prepared to go down that track. It fundamentally asks, “To what degree are we prepared to stimulate ambition, innovation and diversity among local authorities?”

This Bill sends out a very positive message to the market. It says, “Yes, in the face of the biggest challenge that we face”—namely the transformation of our energy infrastructure—“you, local authorities, be prepared to go beyond the minimum standard that we set in the centre. Help us raise the ground floor”, to use the expression of the right hon. Member for Leeds, West that I liked. The Bill sends out a challenge to the most conservative of industries—the house building industry—to go the extra yard and be more efficient in delivering renewable energy and energy efficiency at a lower cost. That freedom will be put in statute, so that the industry and the market have certainty rather than be exposed to the capriciousness of central Government and the revolving ministerial door.

That is an extremely positive and simple message that sends a much stronger signal to the market than the message coming out of Government. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks suggested, after 10 years of talking about climate change, the Government have only just got round to recognising what the Stern report trumpeted loud and clear and that we have followed up in our quality of life commission—that planning and land use are fundamental tools in our collective effort to get on top of emissions.

The Government’s approach is in contrast to the Bill’s simplicity. They drip out bland planning guidance that encourages action as long as it does not compromise other social objectives and that comes on top of a botched consultation on the national standards that we need. Anyone who has any doubt about that should listen to the evidence before the Environmental Audit Committee in its inquiry on sustainable homes. The Government’s guidance also comes on top of the debacle on home information packs that we thrashed out many times in the Housing Bill. All that bends towards a target of zero-carbon homes by 2016, which sounds great on the airwaves but is not propped up by any credible detail or strategy for achieving or enforcing it. As the right hon. Member for Leeds, West suggested, surely by now, we have learned that simply expressing a remote target is not enough.

The background to the Bill is fundamentally one of failure. We are failing to control our emissions. As was said by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, emissions of CO2 have risen since 1997. It is not enough for Ministers to stand at the Dispatch Box and keep talking about the Kyoto target. We know the background to it, and we know why we did well on that target. We know about its inadequacy, and about the scale of the challenge that we face in meeting the targets ahead of us. We know that we are not on top of our emissions.

Underpinning that general macro-failure is a chronic failure as regards our renewable energy strategy. I have been invited to speak at a few renewable energy conferences held by people who are trying to make money out of the industry, to finance the industry, or to deploy the technology, and I always ask three questions: “How many of you think that the Government’s renewable energy strategy is a success?”, “How many of you think that the UK is the most promising market for renewable energy in Europe?”, and “How many of you think that we are on track to meet our 2010 target, let alone our 2020 target?” To date, I have seen only one hand go up in answer to those three questions, and the person concerned turned out to be a consultant to the Government. When it comes to renewable energy, the Government’s strategy and credibility are in tatters.

As the hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Liberals pointed out, the reality is that we drastically under-perform in Europe when it comes to the deployment and penetration of renewable energy. The Library note mentions the figure of 4 per cent. of total gross energy; that is compared to an EU average of 14 per cent., despite our having some of the best natural resources in Europe. The failure is not just in the relatively low levels of penetration and deployment; it is in the amount of money that we have spent to achieve the little that we have achieved. Both Ofgem and the National Audit Office have been coruscating in their criticism of the Government. The simple fact is that the very limited amount of renewable energy that we produce costs British taxpayers £1.4 billion a year. The cost per tonne of CO2 abated is a staggering £110. By comparison, the average price of carbon under the EU emissions trading scheme in 2006 was about £11.50 a tonne.

We have achieved very little at a high cost, and it is clear that we need a different approach. That is why I wholly applaud the work done by our Front Benchers, particularly the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), through our paper, “Power to the People”, which takes a different approach to decentralising energy.

The other failure that is relevant to the Bill is the failure to transform the energy efficiency of our housing stock. That is a crucial part of our collective approach to climate change, because 50 per cent. of emissions come from our buildings. When it comes to thermal performance, the UK has some of the worst housing stock in Europe. As the Liberal spokesman made clear, if we compare the dynamism and ambition of our Government to that found in Germany, it is frankly embarrassing.

On that point, the hon. Gentleman may note that in Sweden, where average January temperatures are 7° C below ours, the average household energy bill is £385 a year less than the average household energy bill in the United Kingdom. That is an extraordinary condemnation of our failure to get to grips with the issue that he raises.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I have heard him make that point before. I think that it comes on the back of research that he has done, and it is an extremely powerful statistic. He will be aware of the frustration that is felt about the extraordinary paucity of ambition and energy shown by the Government. We have to remind ourselves that back in March 1995 the current Prime Minister announced that the Labour Government would lead a major push for energy efficiency in the home. However, as the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) will know, the Association for the Conservation of Energy said to the Environmental Audit Committee that

“the energy efficiency industry as a whole…is extremely disappointed by the painfully slow progress towards introducing new economic instruments to improve household energy efficiency. Frankly, we are beginning to wonder whether it will ever happen”.

The background to the Bill is one of failure, and we should recognise that. There has been no shortage of rhetoric from the Government. That rhetoric has its place, particularly on the international stage, but we must get to grips with the fact that there is failure of delivery on the ground. The problem is not a shortage of initiatives. The policy landscape is very full; in fact, it is cluttered, and there is lots of stuff going on, but it is all driven by the proposition that central Government have all the answers. The penny must soon drop, and we must soon realise that the levers that central Government are pulling are not necessarily connected to anything.

As the right hon. Member for Leeds, West suggested, we need to take a different approach. We should realise that if we are to encourage people to change their values and behaviour over economic cycles and across generations, we have to engage them in a bottom-up process, and involves them in their communities. There has been chronic failure to do so, and an opportunity has been missed. Local authorities are closer to their communities and are more trusted than central Government.

The reality is that local authorities are not adequately engaged. They are major stakeholders in the debate. They are huge estate managers; 25 per cent. of the housing stock in this country is social housing, which is their responsibility, directly or indirectly. They are service providers, who must help us to manage waste and enforce building regulations. They are enablers, and play a role through Warm Front and the energy efficiency commitment. They ought to be standing shoulder to shoulder with central Government as partners in that collective effort, but they are not. As the National Audit Office pointed out to the Environmental Audit Committee in a 2007 report:

“Although over 200 local authorities have made high level commitments to climate change…analysis suggests a mixed picture of performance, with few replicating the achievements of the best.”

I am struck by how often we come back to the examples of Woking and Merton in such debates—there are no other names in the frame. However, things are happening out there, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) said. I draw particular attention to Kirklees, which is enormously innovative and energetic on such issues. My council, Hillingdon, is one of the 100 authorities that are beginning to deploy some of the principles behind the Merton rule, in their own way. We need more leaders. The Bill is attractive because it sends a strong signal to the market to encourage people to lead, not through imposing targets but by giving local authorities real power. The Bill is therefore a step in the right direction.

I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) on bringing forward this eminently sensible and worthy Bill. I hope that the consensus that there has been so far will continue until the Minister’s comments at the end of the debate. The Bill has been described as small; it is indeed brief and concise, and its purpose is to enshrine the Merton rule in primary legislation. That will make an important contribution towards the Government’s 2016 targets on zero-carbon homes.

The Merton rule requires all new non-residential developments of a certain size to generate at least 10 per cent. of their energy on-site from renewable sources. The policy was adopted in October 2003 in Merton’s unitary development plan, and it has since been adopted by a number of other councils—the figure that has been mentioned today is 100. Compliance with the policy is a condition of planning consent. Until the condition is signed off, the development will not be legal. I am delighted to be able to announce to my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks and the rest of the House that the excellent London borough of Havering—my forward-thinking, efficient council—has already introduced its own policy, which requires new developments to include a target of at least 20 per cent. of renewable energy in its large non-residential developments. I am grateful to the Local Government Association for sending me a note about that, just in case I had not been aware of it; I was, but had I not been, the note would have been very useful.

One thing that I hope will come out of the debates in Committee is how the effects will be measured and monitored when the policies are adopted by local authorities. Having the target and the policy enshrined in the plans is one thing; ensuring that the policy is working and being achieved is another. We need to be imaginative in looking at developments after they have been built, when they are occupied and in use, to ensure that they are achieving the 20 per cent.—or, in other local authority areas, perhaps 10 per cent.—target. That needs to be a reality, not just an aspiration.

I am sure that all colleagues here will regularly have received letters from constituents who assume that MPs have powers over local planning. One of my constituents wrote me a notable letter saying, “You’re in charge of the local council. Why did you not stop it granting this planning application?” Such constituents are often disappointed to hear that MPs are not involved in planning applications; this Bill, however, is an example of when MPs can indeed influence the planning process. I wish the Bill well; I have not yet heard one comment against it in this debate, so I am optimistic. I do not wish to put any pressure on the Minister, but I give him every encouragement to join the consensus.

Colleagues as ancient as I am—especially those brought up in cities; I was brought up in London, but other cities were probably the same in this regard—will recall the smogs of yesteryear: those extremely unhealthy, thick yellow fogs from the days when solid fuels were the main source of energy. People actually went out in masks, and we all welcomed the Clean Air Acts of the 1950s and 1960s.

Progress is continually made on energy use and production, and we now encourage individuals not to waste energy; there is an important distinction between using and wasting energy. People are now willing to leave their cars at home and walk if their journey is short, they have no heavy equipment to carry and it is not pouring with rain. People now make choices about when to use their cars, but not so long ago they might have got into their cars automatically, no matter where they were going. That change has meant a reduction in energy consumption.

When people flick the switches in their homes, they expect the light to come on; when they switch on their central heating or gas fires, they expect their homes to become warm. We have to strike a sensible balance between energy use and the general necessities and comforts of life on the one hand, and excessive use and waste on the other. That message is now reaching the general public and there is a great deal of co-operation as people try to reduce their energy use and energy bills; that is particularly pertinent at the moment, because energy costs are rising alarmingly.

The situation may be more difficult for low-income families, who could not consider solar panels or even a new central heating boiler. They might have an old, inefficient boiler but not have the income to replace it. However, there are lots of things that everybody can do without suffering any inconvenience—not leaving electrical equipment on standby and switching off lights when they leave rooms, for example. I and people like me have done such things all our lives; I remember the post-war years when there was a shortage and nobody wasted anything. I no longer save string or brown paper, but I have a lifelong habit of not wasting energy—I do not put more water than is necessary into the kettle, for instance. Such ideas are new to the younger generation, but huge swathes of the population have been aware of them all their lives, and the habits are being reintroduced. Individually, such simple economies do not make a huge difference, but collectively they do.

In encouraging conservation in energy use in large non-residential developments, the Bill will make a significant contribution. Local authorities are looking for all sorts of ways to help the moves towards reducing carbon emissions and making zero-carbon homes. Some local authorities will consider making energy from waste, provided that there is community consent and that the waste being burned is residual and contains nothing that could be recycled. Contaminated plastics, for example, have a high energy content and little other use. However, the process needs to be small in scale so that it does not encourage lots of lorry movements bringing waste from A to B. The burning process needs to be modern, clean and efficient. Local authorities are generally considering every possible way of reducing energy needs and making everything as efficient as possible.

We are setting a good example in this country, which produces comparatively few carbon emissions. In global terms, what we can achieve is probably modest, but in setting a good example to other countries, what we can achieve is important and cannot be underestimated.

The hon. Lady has focused on personal contributions. However, does she agree that we must ensure that the new, renewable technologies are developed, encouraged and fostered? They are an example of good science: good, practical engineering imagination goes into the new ideas on tackling the challenges. Such technologies mean the provision of the jobs of the future as well as tackling the emissions challenge. They will involve a new set of industries that will provide new jobs for the youngsters of today. We have to be encouraging and get the framework right so that those new technologies and businesses can get going as well.

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; we need to consider such education and training for very young children so that they are focused on the widening job opportunities in engineering, technology and development, which will become ever more modern. We need to keep up with the latest developments and have the imagination to initiate them. That contribution will be extremely important—not only nationally, but internationally.

I urge all Members to support the Bill and I am hopeful that the Minister will join the consensus in this debate. I have carefully considered the Bill and cannot foresee any reason why the Minister would not allow it to proceed to Committee if this Second Reading reaches a positive conclusion.

It is a great pleasure to speak on behalf of the official Opposition in strong favour of this excellent Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon). I am pleased that it bears a striking resemblance to an amendment that I tabled to the Climate Change Bill during the last Session. The cause has a good history, not least that of the battle fought by the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton). We recognise the efforts on both sides of the House to give statutory standing to the localist agenda at the heart of this new and badly needed legislation.

This has been a very worthwhile and particularly good Friday morning debate. All the contributions from both sides of the House have been extremely positive and insightful, drawing on the great experience of the Members who are here. Many Members support this measure, including the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle), the hon. Members for Gower and for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), and my hon. Friends the Members for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) and for Upminster (Angela Watkinson), who all made worthwhile and forceful contributions to the debate.

The Bill is an excellent piece of workmanlike drafting; it does exactly what it says on the tin. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks for his brevity. In just a page, it could achieve a paradigm shift in the pursuit of climate change policy.

Members need little reminding of the economic and human necessity of acting now to restrict the worst impacts of climate change. The latest report from the intergovernmental panel on climate change states in the strongest language yet that the scientific evidence is now overwhelming. The case for economic action now rather than later is also increasingly clear thanks to the work of Lord Stern. Yet despite the seemingly widespread acceptance of those facts across the House, the policies of this Government, while generally heading in the right direction, lack sufficient ambition and urgency and the vision that is needed to meet the scale of the global warming challenge within the time frame that we now know is necessary. The Government’s record on carbon reduction and low-carbon technology deployment here in Britain is disappointing to say the least.

Credit is due to the Government for introducing the Climate Change Bill; we look forward to working constructively with them to toughen it up when it reaches the Commons shortly. However, unless there is a clear layer of policies beneath the Bill to deliver real change in our economy, it will have been a waste of time and risks just becoming an effective way to audit our failures. On its own, it will not deliver the changes that we need to make—the dynamic industrial changes, the changes in consumer behaviour, the changes in Government policy—if we are to rise to the challenge of a low-carbon future.

Despite three consecutive Labour manifesto promises to cut emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010, it is a matter of record that total UK carbon emissions have risen since 1997. If the Government had a record to boast of in this regard, perhaps there would be less passion and less need for my hon. Friend’s Bill, but all the evidence and all our experience show that the drive and impetus for the radical changes that we need to make in the UK are coming from the bottom, not the top. In 2006, emissions fell by just 0.1 per cent., despite the great help from some of the warmest weather on record. In 2006, Labour’s manifesto commitment was quietly dropped in favour of a watered down target of 15 per cent. by 2010.

Just for the record, emissions are sometimes the result of warm weather because the greatest use of energy and cause of crises on the grid is usually in the summer when people rush out to buy fans for cooling. Use of energy is not a function of whether the weather is warm or cold. I make that point because there is a great misconception about where the stresses and strains are.

The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point, but I was referring to mild winters when air conditioning is not typically used, rather than hot summers. Air conditioning, unlike winter energy use, is growing rapidly and is very energy-intensive. We need to tackle that if we are to crack this problem.

In the same year that the manifesto commitment was dropped, the then Chancellor pledged in his Budget £20 million—not a great sum, but welcome nevertheless—to energy efficiency, but only a quarter of those funds made it through into efficiency projects. Last year, the Government cut around £300 million from their DEFRA climate change initiatives, including recycling, energy conservation and emissions reduction programmes. The existing capital grant scheme for microgeneration technologies—the low-carbon buildings programme—has been insufficient from the outset. The grants on offer were so undersupplied that they typically ran out after 30 minutes of being available on the internet on the first day of each month. Since then, the low-carbon buildings programme has descended into little more than a farce. In the past 12 months, there have been no fewer than five major changes to the grants programme, including a reduction in the maximum grant per household from a really worthwhile £15,000 to just £2,500.

Then, the new Prime Minister, five months into his premiership, finally made his first foray into the climate change debate. That speech was welcomed in advance, but what was the big idea at the centre of his new climate change strategy? It was a consultation on plastic bags—welcome, but not exactly commensurate with the scale of the challenge of global warming. Do these actions suggest that the Prime Minister is making Britain’s low-carbon future a real priority? Sadly, I do not think so.

That is why, in Britain in the early part of the 21st century, we are now so reliant on local initiatives. There is, in direct contrast to the inertia at the centre of Government, excitement, passion, drive and determination to push some of the most progressive and innovative schemes coming up from the local level. There is real support in our communities, and there are great things going on in our local councils, universities, local organisations and community action groups, with people pushing for genuine change.

I would like to draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to my constituent Russell Smith who set up a company called Parity Projects. Members should be able to see on his website the readings from his own house on heat loss according to the different insulation materials that he has installed. They show the effectiveness of the various measures that he has implemented.

That is a terrific plug for a very good and welcome innovation.

Ultimately, if we are honest, all these measures, while making a contribution, will not be enough unless we have dynamic industrial change and real leadership at the centre, but it appears that we are going to have to wait for a change of Government for that. In the interim, the best that we can hope for is that the lead will be given not from the centre but from the community.

The hon. Gentleman should be fair. Many of those projects are funded by grant from central Government, including Susan Rolfe’s house in Oxford, which got the first solar panels. Sometimes the spark has been provided by assistance and funding from central Government. It is not the case that there is no support for initiatives, but it is a question of connection and scale.

The right hon. Gentleman is right, although grants are not necessarily the best way of supporting innovation and diversity. We believe that feed-in tariffs giving long-term support for microgeneration represent a better way. That is outlined in our pamphlet “Power to the People: the decentralised energy revolution”. However, if we are going to have a grant scheme, we should fund it properly so that there are examplars. As I mentioned earlier, the maximum grant has been cut from £15,000 to £2,500. I wonder how much money the excellent project the right hon. Gentleman referred to benefited from, because I would wager that if that was attempted again with the grants that are currently available, it would struggle to put together the finances.

I am looking forward to reading the hon. Gentleman’s pamphlet, because I hope his proposals stretch right across the piece and do not look at the Warm Front budget alone. I was a Science Minister, and I suggest the hon. Gentleman look at the science budget, including for the research councils. Where does he think the funding for many of the new science and technology developments came from? It came from Government to the science research councils and then through to universities, technology colleges and institutes. This issue must be looked at in the round, because more is happening than the hon. Gentleman might be prepared to acknowledge.

That is absolutely right, and I acknowledge the right hon. Gentleman’s considerable experience in, and knowledge of, this sector. Our universities and research centres are among the best in the world, and it is only fair to say that there has been an increase in funding, which is to the Government’s credit. However, I cannot think of one other G8 country that spends a lower proportion of its GDP on research and development than Great Britain. The general direction of travel under this Government, who lauded their support for science and research and development when in opposition, is downwards almost year on year. That is very unfortunate. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that we have extraordinary creative genius in this country and some of the most talented individuals, and I believe that the solutions to many of the greatest challenges we face are locked in our universities. They can play a huge role in allowing this country to facilitate those solutions not only by leading by example, but by sharing information, solutions and technology. Unfortunately however, under this Government we are not realising our potential. We have huge potential. We see it, but, sadly, the Government are not unlocking or exploiting it.

It is important that we get the facts right. The Financial Times publishes investment in research and development and it shows that our Government invest more than other Governments across Europe—and including America now. The failure is in the private sector, where businesses and other concerns do not put enough of their own profits back into research. That is the gap that we need to address. It is not fair simply to say that the Government do not invest as much in research and development as other countries. We must look at where investment comes from, and that is a complex issue.

The Government are pretty quick to claim credit for private sector investment when that goes up, and to claim the credit for growth in the economy; all that growth comes from the private sector. The Government have a responsibility to create an environment in which companies come forward to invest in research and development and to put in place a long-term framework. On any count, it is clear that the Government have failed to do that. That is simply because there is not the vision, the ambition or the determination to create the innovative, skills-based economy with a long-term direction that we desperately need. That is one reason why good local initiatives are so badly needed, and why the Bill deserves our full support.

When, in 2003, Merton council took the bold step of setting a 10 per cent. target for on-site renewable generation, it helped to spark an unprecedented investment in the microgen sector. Investors felt that frameworks such as Merton could provide a long-term marketplace for the developers and manufacturers of small-scale, low-carbon technologies.

On the path towards the zero-carbon homes target in 2016, there are stepped increases in minimum standards for public sector housing projects. In 2013, the standards jump to a 44 per cent. efficiency improvement on today’s standards—or level 4 in the code for sustainable homes. That is ambitious. There is concern in the microgen sector, voiced by industry groups such as the Micropower Council, that this large increase could result in a huge increase in demand for microgeneration in a short period of time, and that unless careful thought and preparation goes into anticipating that, the industry will struggle to meet it. That is because previous minimum standards could be met through energy efficiency measures alone, whereas it believes that the 44 per cent. standard could not, which would demand that that standard is met by on-site renewables in almost all cases. Many of the manufacturers argue that at its current level the microgeneration sector could not supply that demand, and that that failure would seriously upset the 2016 zero-carbon homes target.

Merton rules provide the longer term security for continued and sustained investment in the microgeneration sector and will allow it to match demand as standards are ratcheted up. We need that sustained growth in microgeneration. The Government’s response to the Merton rule has been typically shambolic and dithering. In a written statement to the House in June of last year, the then Minister for Housing and Planning, the right hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), endorsed the rule, in what many thought was a welcome move. She said:

“the Government expect all planning authorities to include policies in their development plans that require a percentage of the energy in new developments to come from on-site renewables”—[Official Report, 8 June 2006; Vol. 447, c. 33WS.]

Those were sound words.

The statement encouraged yet more councils up and down the country to set such rules according to their local needs—dealing with on-site renewables and energy efficiency in residential and commercial properties as appropriate. Although it is still early for these schemes to be judged, the early adopters, such as Merton and Croydon, have met with considerable success, and, with no significant impact on building rates in those areas, the rules provided a lifeline to the renewables industry and began to lower the shamefully high emissions of our property stock.

Yet, sadly, following intense lobbying from the house building sector—uneasy with change and keen to preserve its one-size-fits-all production methods—the Minister, wielding the empty threat of a slowdown in the housing market, performed a dramatic U-turn on her statement. On Tuesday 23 August, a leaked document from the Department for Communities and Local Government argued:

“Planning authorities should…focus on local development or site specific opportunities, and avoid blanket requirements applying across extensive areas with a broad range of development proposals and circumstances.”

That clumsy U-turn did untold damage to the microgen sector, set a hare running in the press and created uncertainty, which is bad for investment and confidence, and it was broadly condemned by environmental non-governmental organisations, trade associations and environmental campaigners, as well as by many authoritative commentators.

Therefore, when Ministers assure us that the change of heart in December’s planning policy statement now supports Merton-style rules, how can we believe them? Can the innovative talents in the microgen sector now go to their investors with a straight face and say, “Don’t worry; the U-turn’s been U-turned and we’ve now got a new turn”?

The Bill is important precisely because of this culture of uncertainty and dither that lies at the very heart of the Government. The Bill will replace dither with clear statute. Short, pithy and to the point, it will give certainty. As has been said, it is a permissive Bill; it will give new rights, not impose regulations. It will enshrine the rights of local councils to make their own proposals for renewable targets within reasonable limits in law. It will prevent the unseen hand of Whitehall choking off local initiatives. There was a brazen example of that earlier last year, when the Yorkshire and Humber development plan was scrutinised by the former Minister. Its on-site renewable target mysteriously disappeared.

The Bill would protect in law the right of local councils to set targets while ensuring that they are reached through the public process of consultation on a development plan. I am sure that the Minister will claim that the planning policy statement in soon-to-be published guidance will give all councils guidelines on making the targets. How is a centralised diktat better at meeting local targets than local planning officers acting in consultation with local property owners and developers, local people and communities and locally elected councillors?

I am listening to the hon. Gentleman’s speech extremely closely. Will he inform the House precisely where in the planning policy statement it ensures that there is a central diktat?

That is what a planning policy statement is—it is a diktat that comes from central Government on high. Planning guidance has the weight of law, but it is not debated and it is not accountable in the same way.

Let us consider the example of inner-city areas, and, in particular, high-rise developments, where it is harder to place renewables on site. In such circumstances, near-site renewables or dedicated generation may be a better solution. The exact definition of an acceptable near-site renewable could be decided on, as appropriate, within each local authority’s development plan. We should trust local communities to get the solution that is right for their area. The Government’s approach is typical of their one-size-fits-all, centrally-controlling mentality. Who is to say that the next planning policy statement will not flip-flop back against the rules, promoting again the Government’s centralised targets-setting policy, which raises only the floor and leaves no opportunity to raise the ceiling?

The Bill may stipulate energy efficiency in the mix too. It is incredibly important that while building standards drive up the underachieving councils, councils with the vision to see the benefits and leadership involved in moving ahead, and with the support of their communities to do so, are given the ability to drive progress in their area and create beacons of excellence.

One of the problems with relying solely on building standards to improve energy efficiency is that even our existing building standards, which do not set high enough targets as yet, are not being enforced. Many of those present in the Chamber are either members or former members of the Environmental Audit Committee. It has taken evidence that showed that more than 30 per cent. of new houses are built below existing building regulations standards. Planning can thus help to fill that gap.

The hon. Gentleman is spot on. I think I am right in saying that there has not been a single prosecution for breaches of those standards—perhaps the Minister could inform us of any such prosecution. The standards might be a good idea in Whitehall, but they are not being implemented in the country. It would be far better to give local communities local ownership of, and input in, these matters.

I agree with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) and the hon. Gentleman. Would the hon. Gentleman join me in welcoming the clauses in the Housing and Regeneration Bill that extend the time limits for prosecutions of building regulations breaches from six months to two years? They will enable us to capture a lot more breaches and many more prosecutions will take place.

That Bill will not capture a lot more, because we are not currently capturing any at all. If it catches one, that will be an improvement. I do not want the time limit for prosecutions to go from six months to two years—I want the Government to get on with the job and start prosecuting shoddy cowboy builders and irresponsible developers. I want them to enforce the existing legislation, rather than seek longer time to do the job that the Minister and the rest of this inefficient and calamitous Government are failing to do now.

The hon. Gentleman is missing the point. The extension to the time limits is necessary precisely because we need more evidence to ensure that those shoddy cowboy builders are prosecuted. Surely he welcomes that.

I am certainly not opposed to it in principle, although I am not familiar with the Housing and Regeneration Bill. I would be more comfortable about doing that if I really thought that a strong effort was going into prosecuting as things stand. I do not want us just to give more wriggle room. However, I hear what the Minister is saying.

Some councils may allow developers to account for some of their target through efficiency measures and others may set independent targets for microgeneration and efficiency. There are concerns that there may be a plethora of new efficiency standards as a result of the Planning and Energy Bill, but the current wave of Merton rules has produced no such complexity. It is clear that it is far more time-efficient for most local authorities to use existing codes, such as the Government’s sustainable homes code, than to develop completely new standards from scratch. The rule also gives a welcome chance to smaller, local property developers to serve their local market. Larger developers, who have a more unwieldy, mass-produced product to adapt, might not as easily tap into such a market. We could thus use the benefits of local knowledge and of involving small entrepreneurs.

If we are really serious about tackling climate change, every aspect of government must be prepared for dynamic change. We must also be prepared to challenge the status quo. This Government have proved that business as usual will simply not deliver the speed of transformation in our economy that we need. We must foster excellence in innovation and new technology, invest in and develop burgeoning green technologies, and we must look ahead and be far more ambitious in their deployment. Rather than pick individual technological winners centrally, or dictate from Whitehall planning guidance that is uncertain in the long term and unsuitably broad brush in its approach for the needs of localism, the Bill would allow and empower those communities who are most able—often those where land values are higher—and most willing to blaze a trail for others to follow.

The Bill would allow the right solutions to reach the endlessly varied parts of this country and give us at least a fighting chance of reaching our 2016 zero-carbon homes target. The Government claim from time to time to back Merton-style rules. Indeed, the former Minister for Housing—now Chief Secretary to the Treasury—has called the PPS solution Merton plus. If she had been truly convinced of the importance of market certainty to developing our microgen sector and of the power and effectiveness of Merton rules, she surely would have joined us by giving local authorities the statutory right to set them.

Before I conclude, I should like to cite the word of the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Jack Pringle. He has said:

“The RIBA strongly believes that local authorities should be free to demand higher building standards than those set nationally. Individual local authorities can play a huge role in driving innovation and can themselves become beacons of sustainability. If the reports are true and this ability will be lost, that will be detrimental to the government’s goal of reducing carbon emissions from buildings.”

In this time of Government dithering, business certainty is vital. This Bill has the potential to provide that in one area at least. It does exactly what it says on the tin. One would expect something crisp, sharp, pithy and non-regulatory from my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks, who is a tireless and redoubtable member of the Treasury Committee and a hammer of needless regulation and burdensome government. The Bill has also proved him to be a champion of modern localism. He has not only captured the spirit of a new political age in the Bill, but he has endeavoured to give our local communities, which are far more ambitious and more progressive than this inert Government, the power to begin the job that we will finish.

I begin by welcoming the spirit in which the debate has taken place today, and the intent, manner and sentiment behind the Bill, although that was spoilt somewhat by the partisan approach of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker).

I am glad that we have moved on. We have all come a long way in 20 years, not least the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon). As a north-eastern MP, I remember him as a former Member for Darlington. There has always been a lot of animosity between Darlington and Hartlepool, largely as a result of football clubs, but I hope we do not see any of that animosity today. About 20 years ago, climate change was so low on the political radar that when Margaret Thatcher’s chief scientific adviser warned her about the threat of global warming she is said to have replied, “Are you seriously telling me that I should have to worry about the weather?” That is important; we have moved on because climate change is of profound concern to us all today. The weight of scientific evidence is irrefutable.

Would the Minister acknowledge that Mrs. Thatcher was the first mainstream world leader to put climate change on the global agenda?

I would still maintain that throughout the 1980s, climate change was not one of the Thatcher Administration’s main concerns, and this Government have progressively ensured that it has moved further and further up the political agenda.

Before I move on, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson), whose comments resonated a lot with what I think. I shall not say too much about energy efficiency, but her point about going round turning lights off resonates with me. I am a father of four children and I seem to spend my weekends doing exactly that. As the hon. Lady was speaking, I recalled the scene in the BBC comedy series “The Royle Family”, where they were sat on the sofa and Caroline Aherne’s character, I think, said, “Where were you, Dad, when Kennedy was shot?” and he said, “I’ve no idea, but I’m sure our immersion heater was on”—very similar to our household.

We are moving towards a powerful international consensus that urgent action is needed to tackle climate change. The evidence suggests that human activity is a major cause of climate change, and that evidence is growing. This state of affairs does not just affect climate change and energy policy; it will have major global repercussions for things such as migration, economic development and economic policy. We need to tackle the problem in the round.

I would like to describe some of the actions being taken by the Government to address climate change, particularly through housing and planning legislation. The benefits in particular of the planning policy statement on climate change that was published in December are central to my argument Unfortunately, when that guidance was published, the results of the ballot had already come through for the hon. Member for Sevenoaks. He may correct me on this, but had he been aware of the PPS, he would have been aware that his Bill would be superseded by it, and he might have changed his mind regarding its content. The PPS renders the hon. Gentleman’s proposals unnecessary. It achieves the same ends, and there is a strong consensus throughout the House on the basis of those ends. The Government cannot support the Bill. Although we support the ends, we can achieve them through different means.

Given what the Minister has said, will he put on the record that the Government’s new policy position makes lawful and acceptable the rule that the local authority in Cambridge put forward and had rejected? That rule stated that developers have to provide evidence of how they have minimised energy consumption, maximised energy efficiency and considered the feasibility of combined heat and power. If he can put on the record that such a rule is okay, I shall go along with what he is saying. Otherwise, the Bill is necessary.

I am unfamiliar with the Cambridge example, and I do not want to box myself in. Having said that, the planning policy statement states that local authorities should have climate change and its mitigation at the heart of what they do in their local planning documents. In that respect, I imagine that Cambridge should be doing exactly that. I hope that answers his question.

I have been struck by some of the comments made in defence of the Bill, and I wrote some of them down, such as, “It makes nobody do anything”. I approach such matters on the principle that legislation should make somebody do something—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] Opposition Members surely accept that there needs to be an absolute reason for legislation. That is the whole point of our being in this House—to make things a lot better. The concerns raised by Opposition Members surprise me, because we need to ensure that climate change is mitigated as effectively as possible, bearing in mind the fast-moving elements involved and the changes in technology. The planning policy statement helps to address that.

Although I have a problem with the fundamentals of the Bill, I agree with all the sentiments expressed today about the need to take radical action to tackle climate change. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle acknowledged most graciously, the Government are leading the world in taking the tough action needed through our Climate Change Bill. That is currently in the other place, and it sets out our plans to tackle climate change in the next 50 years. It demonstrates to the world that we are determined to take the tough decisions needed, and that we will not ask any country, especially the poorer ones, to take any steps that we are not prepared to take ourselves. That Bill is the first of its kind anywhere in the world, setting clear legally binding targets to reduce carbon dioxide levels by at least 60 per cent. by 2050, and by 26 to 32 per cent. by 2020, based on 1990 levels. It will provide a new system of legally binding five-year carbon budgets, set at least 15 years ahead, which will provide clarity on the optimum pathway towards the key targets. I suggest to the House that that will offer greater certainty and confidence, facilitating the business planning and investment necessary to work towards a low-carbon economy.

I was contemplating what points the Minister could possibly dredge up as objections to allowing the Bill a Second Reading, and I hope that he is not moving towards such an objection. Is he saying that the provisions of the Climate Change Bill encompass what the Planning and Energy Bill provides? Earlier, he said that this Bill does not achieve anything. Does he not agree that enshrining the Merton rule in primary legislation is a positive thing for the Bill to achieve?

The main thrust of my argument is twofold. First, as I shall come to later, last year’s planning policy statement provides local authorities with what is required by the Bill, but gives us flexibility because we do not need primary legislation to deal with it. My second argument, which I shall advance in a moment, is that the range of legislation currently going through this House and the other place, such as the Climate Change Bill, the Energy Bill, the Planning Bill, most importantly, and the Housing and Regeneration Bill, provides other means by which we can achieve what is set out in this Bill. Because parliamentary time is extremely valuable, I would suggest that the Bill is not necessary. Our commitment to tackling climate change and ensuring that that can be done within the planning framework absolutely reflects what the hon. Member for Sevenoaks wants to achieve, but it achieves it by other means.

We need to ensure that every element of our economy and society can reinforce our ambitions to cut carbon emissions and tackle climate change throughout the fields of transport, buildings and industry. In my Department for Communities and Local Government, we are paying particular attention to what can be done to improve housing and planning in order to cut carbon emissions from buildings.

As I said to the hon. Member for Upminster, we also believe that the planning system has an important role to play in promoting the greater use of renewable energy. The Planning Bill has been introduced—it is in Committee at the moment—in order to promote a green and growing economy. The new planning rules set out stronger environmental requirements for local authorities, putting the tackling of climate change at the heart of the planning system for the first time. I understand that the Public Bill Committee considering that Bill will shortly be dealing with clause 147, which is entitled, “Development plan documents: climate change policies”. That clause sets out that local authorities must include policies in their development plan documents that are

“designed to secure that the development and use of land in the local planning authority’s area contributes to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.”

In effect, the clause puts a duty on councils to take action on climate change in preparing their local plans. It does precisely what it says on the tin, and it also does what the Bill proposed by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks says on its tin. That duty has been welcomed by stakeholders because of the positive contribution that it will make.

Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), there are so many caveats in the planning policy statement that it is left open for developers to challenge. The policies will not therefore have the statutory force that they would if the Bill were passed.

I am not entirely certain what the hon. Gentleman is getting at. The point that I am advancing is that clause 147 of the Planning Bill, which will be debated very shortly, will introduce in primary legislation the very point that the hon. Member for Sevenoaks wants to make with his Bill.

The Minister just said that the clause will place a general duty to refer to climate change measures. It does not go into microgeneration or low-energy generation, which are what we are talking about today. The two things are related, but they are not the same.

I can understand the hon. Gentleman’s point that the subjects are related. As an enabling Government, we are providing a web of policies, guidance and legislation to ensure that everything is captured, and at the same time we are ensuring that local authorities step up to the plate and make provisions according to their responsibilities on a range of matters—particularly on climate change and planning, but also on housing growth and economic development. We have adopted precisely the right approach. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would agree with me on that.

Section 19(2) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 states that in preparing a development plan document, local planning authorities must have regard to

“national policies and advice contained in guidance issued by the Secretary of State”.

That guidance includes the planning policy statement on climate change that we published last month—this is the point that the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) just touched upon—which will in effect set the parameters for implementing the duty set out in clause 147 of the Planning Bill. That clause, the requirements of the 2004 Act and the PPS together implement our proposal in the planning White Paper to legislate in order to set out clearly the role of local planning authorities in tackling energy efficiency and climate change. That should be welcomed by Members in all parties.

I am a junior Housing Minister, and that is incredibly important today—[Laughter.] I still have my phone on, though. The point has been made that housing contributes a great deal to our carbon emissions—something like 26 or 27 per cent. We need to do something to cut that. That is why—this has been mentioned time and again by hon. Members on both sides of the House—from 2016, all new homes will be zero-carbon. What do we mean by zero-carbon? The definition is that over the course of a year there will be net zero-carbon emissions from homes, including from heating, lighting and appliances—everything from the TV to the fridge. We are the first country in the world to be so ambitious, particularly when our ambitious targets for housing growth are considered. We want to have 3 million such homes by 2020 and 2 million by 2016.

There is agreement from green organisations and house builders that our goal is achievable. More than 170 organisations in the building industry have already signed up to our zero-carbon target. The recent review of the house building industry by John Calcutt confirmed that that industry has the skills and capacity to deliver environmentally sustainable housing growth. As Calcutt recommended, we will set up a delivery body to ensure that we reach that target. We will outline the details of that organisation shortly.

We already have a clear timetable for raising the energy efficiency standards of homes, with progressively tough standards enshrined in building regulations. In 2010, there will be a 25 per cent. improvement from 2006 in the number of homes built to comply with part L of the building standards. In 2013, there will be a 44 per cent. increase in those standards. We are putting in place a series of measures to set us firmly on the path of achieving the zero-carbon target. They include measures to promote energy efficiency, and also to promote the greater use of renewable energy. One method alone, I suggest, will not be enough.

With a demanding national timetable, it is important that councils have a strategic local lead, including through their planning responsibilities. Our new planning rules, backed by the climate duty in the Planning Bill, provide a strong framework for the collaborative and responsible working needed to make that happen. [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Upminster would agree that someone has left the kettle on. They have put too much water in it, and it keeps boiling and boiling.

I stand corrected, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We have also talked about the code for sustainable homes. Again, this is an important point. The Housing and Regeneration Bill is in Committee. The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd), who is a member of that Committee, has to suffer my company daily. That Bill will make it mandatory for all new homes to be rated against the code for sustainable homes. The code demonstrates the overall sustainability of each new home—not just in energy efficiency, but in water use. Standards set out in the code match up with the progressively demanding building regulations that will be introduced. Code level 6 represents zero-carbon and exemplary development in energy and water efficiency.

By making it mandatory for homes to have a sustainability rating, we are providing the information that consumers need to make informed judgments when they buy. Homes built to higher code levels, for example, are likely to have lower fuel bills, which any prospective buyer will consider important. They will move the market accordingly. Fridge ratings could form an analogy. Five or 10 years ago, people did not know what fridge ratings were, and now no one would buy a fridge or other white appliance if it was not energy rated. I think that homes will go down a similar path.

It is not mandatory for all homes to be assessed. In some circumstances, developers will be building only to minimum building regulations and there is no need to make them pay for an unnecessary assessment. However, English Partnerships is already building at code level 3. The Housing Corporation will join it for the next affordable housing programme. That will give developers that are building mixed developments a choice about whether they want to be seen to build homes that are less sustainable than Government-funded housing programmes. They will have to consider that when they market their new homes. We are already seeing movement in the building industry to support the code. Developers can already use the code voluntarily. Berkeley Homes, for example, has already committed to building all new homes to code level 3.

Local planning authorities are already working with developers in innovative and imaginative ways to help us to meet our house building targets and to ensure that those houses are more stable and resilient, so that they can deal with the challenges posed by climate change, such as more extreme weather and floods. We also believe that we need to develop a similar approach for non-domestic buildings, so that all new shops, offices and so on would have to be zero-carbon. The work undertaken by the UK Green Building Council suggests that it would be possible, in the right circumstances, for the majority of non-domestic buildings to be zero-carbon by 2020. We are considering those findings.

The final element that I want to mention is the biggie: last month’s planning policy statement on climate change. It has four main themes. The first is the aim to ensure that local plans have strong carbon ambitions and targets. That will fully integrate tackling climate change into all planning policy. It will ensure that councils will take such issues into account when considering the location for new developments so that they can take full advantage of local renewable and low-carbon energy opportunities. The PPS emphasises the need for delivery, accelerating action so that plans do not simply sit on shelves.

Secondly, to pick up on a point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) made and about which I am excited, the PPS represents a major direction that energy policy can take in the next century. It will help deliver decentralised, renewable and low-carbon energy and expect new development to incorporate local renewable and low-carbon energy when viable. In the Housing and Regeneration Bill Public Bill Committee, we are currently discussing the right to buy and the relative merits and demerits of that. It goes without saying that many communities felt empowered by that in the 1980s and 1990s. Decentralising the energy network, whereby local communities have some sort of facility to generate electricity, feed it into the national grid and be paid for it, could be a modern way in which to empower new local communities and provide genuine community spirit. The PPS facilitates that.

Many councils are already adopting policies and development plans that require a percentage of the energy in new developments to come from on-site renewables when that is viable. As has been said time and again, that is known as the Merton rule. It follows the example in 2003 of the London borough of Merton, which established a policy whereby new residential developments over a specific size were expected to incorporate renewable energy production equipment to provide at least 10 per cent. of predicted energy requirements.

Although the idea has been somewhat derided, I believe that the PPS goes even further and embeds Merton plus rules in all councils. That means that we expect a council-wide, Merton-style rule for cutting carbon by using local renewable and low-carbon energy in new development as well as tailored targets for sites where there are bigger opportunities than the council-wide target. We do not want the average to be the height of ambition.

The PPS will encourage new developments that limit carbon dioxide emissions, and help existing developments adopt local renewable or low-carbon energy. Moreover, the PPS confirms that there will be times when local councils should expect higher standards of building sustainability than those set nationally through building regulations. They could include, for example, areas of serious water stress, where, without the highest standard of water efficiency, the proposed development would be unacceptable.

Thirdly, the PPS would speed up the shift to renew renewable and low-carbon energy. It expects regional targets for renewable energy in line with national targets—better, when possible. It will encourage technical innovation. If one word sums up the theme of today’s debate, it is “innovation”. The PPS helps innovate. It will develop decentralised, renewable energy generation networks. It is all exciting stuff, which will provide what the Bill hopes to achieve.

Fourthly, the PPS will help create communities that are resilient to the effects of climate change. We must act to reduce the impact but also to mitigate it. The PPS will ensure that communities are fit for future climates. It especially emphasises the importance of providing public and open spaces in new developments, recognising the many benefits that green spaces provide, not only to local people but to wildlife and biodiversity.

In summary, the planning rules go much further than the Bill, which would simply enable councils to set requirements for energy generation. When councils do not take the new planning rules seriously and reflect them in their plans, they are more likely to find those plans amended or overturned.

Let me discuss the extent of consultation on the PPS to show the depth of support for its approach, in contrast with the limited endorsement that the Bill received. The draft PPS was first published for consultation more than a year ago. That closed in March 2007 and we received more than 300 responses. A range of organisations responded to the consultation, including 11 developers, 158 local planning authorities, 22 regional planning organisations, 39 non-governmental organisations, 38 professional bodies and 12 quasi-governmental organisations such as the Carbon Trust.

Consultation responses showed strong support for the PPS and made clear the value of using planning positively to help shape and deliver places with lower carbon emissions that are resilient to the impact of climate change. More than 200 consultees agreed that the proposed climate change PPS, as part of the Department’s wider package of action, including the 2016 zero-carbon homes policy, would secure planning strategies that deliver reductions in emissions and help shape sustainable communities that are resilient to the extent of climate change, which is accepted as inevitable.

The consultation also sought views on the proposal that local planning authorities should ensure that a significant proportion of the energy supply of substantial new development is gained on site, renewably and/or from a decentralised renewable or low-carbon energy supply. That approach was supported by 169 respondents; only 21 disagreed. There is, therefore, a range of support for our approach.

Let me deal with the Bill. It would enable a local planning authority to specify for any development in its area the generation of energy from renewable sources as part of the proposed development; the generation of low-carbon energy as part of the proposed development; and an energy efficiency standard in all, part or parts of a proposed development that exceeds any required by national building regulations.

My interpretation of the Bill, which the hon. Member for Sevenoaks reinforced in his opening speech, is that its purpose is to promote the Merton rule. As I said, the PPS promotes Merton plus—and more. I want to make it clear that I disagree with the fundamentals of the Bill simply because it is impractical and ineffective. We therefore reject the means rather than the end.

The approach in the PPS means that councils need to examine the best options in their areas, which could mean on-site renewables or local low-carbon energy such as CHP. It would not be sensible to specify rigidly the right solution for each development or to predict the most effective technology in the coming years. The pace of change in technology and research and development is too fast. For that reason, we do not want councils to insist on on-site renewables if there are better ways of cutting carbon from local energy.

Insisting on an on-site definition may be a barrier to local renewables. That is because a new housing development could get more power from a medium-sized wind turbine on a nearby hill or verge, rather than from one for every house in the development. A site near a power plant could utilise its surplus heat with a combined heat and power generator. A medium-sized wind turbine or a combined heat and power plant may not be feasible within many individual development sites but could provide the most cost-effective way of cutting carbon and be located locally and close to the development—perhaps on a highway verge or other open space.

Experience suggests that local policies are most effective if they include elements of both on-site and near-site generation and do not rule out, for example, low-carbon CHP such as that in Woking, or medium-sized wind turbines serving a whole development.

I strongly believe that councils could set targets for decentralised renewable energy if the evidence suggests that that is sensible. However, the overall approach should promote and encourage renewable and low-carbon energy generation but not dictate or prescribe the solution for every area. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks made that precise point. That will become increasingly important as we work towards our zero-carbon homes target and our similar ambitions for zero-carbon new non-domestic buildings.

There is increasing evidence that it would be impractical and not cost-effective if every development specified on-site, rather than near-site, renewable energy. For example, Element Energy, in its recent work for the Renewables Advisory Board on the potential contribution of renewables to the zero-carbon homes policy, recommends that

“local offsite generation is encouraged”.

It advises that it is important that

“larger scale CHP and district heating is culturally and commercially attractive in the UK since it offers a relatively cheap route to compliance”.

Similarly, the work that we commissioned from the UK Green Building Council on energy efficiency in new non-domestic buildings underlines the importance of local energy solutions in moving to zero-carbon new buildings, and highlights the planning system’s key role in making that happen. The council says:

“planning by local planning authorities therefore needs to incorporate energy planning, undertaking heat mapping and community renewable potential in order to assign the best near-site solutions in terms of carbon reduction and maximising the use of resources.”

We have therefore specifically rejected using primary legislation for the type of provisions proposed in the hon. Gentleman’s private Member’s Bill, because of the difficulties in keeping it up to date and responsive to fast-moving and changing circumstances. We need policy to keep up with the rapid advances in technology. With the greatest of respect, I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that it would be somewhat cumbersome and time-consuming if that meant amending primary legislation time and again. If, for example, we needed to tighten the requirements on renewables but not on low-carbon energy, it would be far easier to amend the PPS than primary legislation. That is why the PPS is the right place to set out the detail.

Because the Bill is a somewhat blunt instrument, it has the potential to undermine the progress towards the zero carbon target, through a series of counter-productive consequences. I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from, and that is clearly not his intention, but it could be the effect. First, the Bill does not replicate the safeguards within the PPS. Those safeguards will ensure that environmental standards are raised in a sensible way, so that we can continue to deliver the necessary levels of new housing at the same time. Whatever requirements councils set need to be tested publicly as part of the planning process and need to be compatible with delivering housing targets and affordable homes. The Bill does not have the same safeguards. It requires councils only to set targets that are “reasonable”, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West said, we could talk for hours—indeed, I am tempted to do so—about what is “reasonable”. As a result, the Bill could undermine our targets to deliver much-needed affordable housing.

Secondly, the Bill could rule out, for example, more cost-effective local but near-site energy solutions, by stipulating just on-site renewables or just low-carbon energy. That excludes local community energy schemes. We recognise that the industry producing solar panels and small scale wind turbines has been arguing strongly for such an exclusive approach. However, we believe that councils should not set rules that deter developers from connecting new developments directly to a local community renewable scheme. That is why the planning rules are clear that councils should consider near-site energy generation as well as on-site generation. By “near-site” we mean in the local area and dedicated to serving, or serving via a wider energy network, the development concerned, not a site many miles away, such as in Orkney.

Thirdly, the Bill would enable councils to set their own energy efficiency standards. That would effectively allow every council to set their own building regulations, which, as the Minister responsible for building regulations, I believe would cause huge problems for the delivery of new zero-carbon technologies and the delivery of housing. That would not be workable and would be a nightmare for industry to adapt to, which is why the proposal is not feasible. If house builders have to meet hundreds of different types of standards across the country, that will prevent the economies of scale, which have been mentioned, that are desperately needed in the industry for building zero-carbon homes; it will make it much harder for house builders to deliver the homes that we need; and it will reduce competition, by making it harder for house builders to cross boundaries into areas that require different building techniques.

There is therefore a risk that the Bill would distort investment in research and development, and technologies, and could disrupt the orderly development of supply chains for the delivery of zero-carbon homes. I do not think that that is what the hon. Member for Sevenoaks wants. Instead, the Government’s current framework will increase national standards substantially and clearly, in 2010 and 2013, and fully reach zero carbon by 2016, so all builders will have to meet higher standards and the construction industry can benefit from economies of scale and, importantly, plan for that zero carbon target.

The enabling provision on energy efficiency could set different standards for different parts of the same development, which could encourage the fragmentation of building standards. We are keen to avoid that, as it would be at odds with the approach set out in the PPS, which encourages councils to go for a higher code level for specific sites and where there are particular, demonstrable circumstances to justify such action. It is important to note that, although different councils might be working to different standards, they are all standards on the same scale, set out in the code for sustainable homes, rather than each council adopting an entirely different approach, as the Bill would permit.

The House will be pleased to hear that I am now reaching my conclusion. I again welcome the spirit of the Bill and commend the hon. Gentleman for bringing it to the House. What our green and growing economy needs is an evidence-based and comprehensive green strategy, not a green fig leaf that dies quickly when this season’s fashion ends. We need practical, local proposals that capture the support of the wide range of organisations that we need to work with to realise our shared ambitions, not the unrealistic dreams of one particular lobby group. We need a flexible approach that can respond to advances in technology and changes in demand, not a legislative straitjacket that would leave us unable to swim on as the water rises. This is what the current legislative programme offers and, importantly, what the PPS provides, but it is what the Bill would fail to deliver. That is why I do not believe that we should give it a Second Reading.

With the leave of the House, I should like to say that the case for the Bill has been well supported on both sides of the House, and I am most grateful to all those who have spoken. I simply do not understand how the Minister can describe it as a green fig leaf. The whole point of it is to place on the statute book and beyond doubt the ability of councils to adopt these policies.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Public Bill Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Am I right that there was a time when the occupant of the Chair would remind Members that if they call a vote they are normally expected to vote the way that they are supposed to? Could the Minister be invited to come back, give an explanation for not voting against the Bill and perhaps offer his resignation within 24 hours of taking up his position?

I am sure that the Government will hear the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but we need not take up more of the House’s time, as another Bill is before us.