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Planning and Energy Bill

Volume 480: debated on Friday 17 October 2008

Question again proposed, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

As they say in some places, a win is a win. In all the excitement, I lost my place in my short speech, so with your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will just begin again.

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, who played such a huge part in helping the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), is here. However, I am also joined by other colleagues in the Chamber, including my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol, East (Kerry McCarthy), for Feltham and Heston (Alan Keen), for Selby (Mr. Grogan) and, of course, for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), as well as many other right hon. and hon. Members. They include my good, dear friend the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey)—he is a friend, but not an hon. Friend, I hasten to add, unless he decides to cross the Floor, as his predecessor in Wantage did.

I am pleased that we are able to discuss in detail the amendment from the other place, as I feared that the wrecking vote earlier would mean that we would not be able to do so. I do not intend to stray from the debate. Although I am a new boy in these Friday debates, I realise from sitting on the Benches as a Whip that you do not allow Ministers to depart too far from the strictures of debate on private Members’ Bills, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Sevenoaks on successfully negotiating his private Member’s Bill through all the parliamentary hoops so far, including votes to sit in private. We are all aware that private Members’ Bills can face an uphill struggle to survive. Given how far the Bill has travelled and the support that it has attracted during its passage, it would be extremely disappointing if it fell at the final hurdle.

On the subject of how far the Bill has travelled, I am also extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Sevenoaks and now to the Government for their support for it. The Bill arose from a specific problem in my constituency and started in the House two and a half years ago. It is very gratifying to see it come all the way through to today, so that the problem can be resolved legislatively. It is not just a good day for the environment; it is a good day for the decentralisation of power, so I am grateful for the Minister’s support.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. This is not just a time for national unity because of the economic crisis. Climate change and the problems that our earth faces also demand unity in the Chamber and elsewhere, so I am pleased to hear his words.

Let me also say how pleased I am to be here to debate this private Member’s Bill. I was delighted to be appointed to my current post in the Department for Communities and Local Government. I am now on day 12. You will be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I spent many hours sitting where my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Chris Mole) is sitting now, helping to secure the safe passage of the Bill. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks referred to reshuffling and transfers, and I had the pleasure of sitting through a tour de force of a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) on Report, in which he managed to mention every member of the Fulham football team, including its chairman, some of whom have also been transferred and reshuffled.

Today I have been asked, on behalf of the Government, to take on the responsibility of looking after the hon. Gentleman’s Bill. I realise that he and you, Madam Deputy Speaker, see a new face. I am also well aware—he referred to this—that a number of different Ministers have been involved in the passage of the Bill. I am sure that someone will have been keeping a tally—indeed, I notice that the hon. Gentleman himself has been keeping a tally. The figure is five and counting. I have asked my private office not to clean out my office just yet. Indeed, I hope that this short speech will not be the end of my career upwards or downwards—I quite enjoy the gig that I have got on day 12.

We all wish the Minister well with his Government career. Let me also offer my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) many congratulations on piloting the Bill. However, the Government could have speeded things up a lot if they had decided to introduce the legislation in their own time. If it were not for my hon. Friend’s efforts and endeavours, we would not be discussing it now.

I am extremely grateful for that contribution, because it raises a point that needs to be discussed. Are the Opposition in favour of more legislation and bigger government or less legislation and smaller government? We had 34 Bills in the last Queen’s Speech, most of which were opposed by Her Majesty’s official Opposition. If they want more legislation—

Order. The Minister said at the outset that he was very aware of the strictures of debate on a Friday. On this particular Friday we are discussing a Lords amendment. May I suggest to any hon. Member who is going to make a contribution that they focus their remarks on the Lords amendment?

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am afraid that the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) managed to lead me into an elephant trap that I fell into. I am grateful to you for pulling me out of that trap and ensuring that I move to safer pastures.

I am aware of the Bill’s history, having been present in previous debates. I am also aware—the hon. Member for Sevenoaks referred to this—of the early line that we took on the Bill. Let me remind hon. Members of what the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright), said when the Bill was debated on Second Reading. He acknowledged that we were not initially convinced that the Bill was necessary—I am coming to the Lords Amendment, Madam Deputy Speaker, as it is directly relevant to this point. We also thought that the Bill required amendment to make it effective in practice.

We have subsequently been convinced of the Bill’s value and have worked with the hon. Member for Sevenoaks and other hon. Members, in all parts of the House, including on the Government Benches. It is on record clearly that the Government support the Bill as it now stands. That the Bill was subject to only a minor technical amendment in the other place is testament to the hard work put into moulding it into a workable piece of legislation in Committee in this place. Thanks go both to the hon. Gentleman and to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, the then Minister for Housing, who took responsibility for the Bill in Committee. She has now moved on, and one hopes that such swift promotion is spread among other Ministers who have been involved in the Bill.

Looking back at Hansard, I see that the hon. Member for Sevenoaks spoke on Second Reading about a meeting that he had had with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who was then the Minister for Housing and Planning:

“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.”—[Official Report, 25 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 1736.]

My right hon. Friend, to whom the hon. Gentleman was referring, obviously went onwards and upwards. I hope that this is not an omen, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will bear with us during this seemingly constant round of musical chairs, and that he will be satisfied that, no matter who stands here at the Dispatch Box, we have been harmonious in our desire to tackle climate change and that we support the Bill, as it is now amended.

I am sure that everyone who has been involved in the discussions on the Bill during the early debates thought that they had fashioned a Bill that needed no further alteration. The hon. Gentleman referred to that earlier. He even convinced my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon of the merits of the Bill and, as we are now aware, further amendment did not prove necessary. I am pleased that sufficient parliamentary time has now been found to continue the debate on the Floor of the House.

I will give way, but may I remind the hon. Gentleman that I have already fallen into one elephant trap, and I am keen not to fall into a second one on my debut outing on a Friday?

It is not my intention to bait the Minister in any way. Does he agree that, while the amendment is important, we also need to recognise the benefit of feed-in tariffs? Does he agree that—

Order. I am afraid that that is not in order. We are debating the Lords amendment. Whatever the hon. Gentleman’s intentions may be, I am afraid that I must stop him.

Thank you for protecting me from that distraction, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think that I saw that one coming, but I thank you none the less.

So far, we have spent about eight hours and 16 minutes debating the Bill in this House and in the other place, and I hope that we will soon reach a swift, successful conclusion. We are all aware that climate change is one of the most important challenges that we face and it is one that we must not lose sight of while we respond to the rapid developments that we have witnessed recently in the financial world. Climate change will not go away if we ignore it.

The new Department of Energy and Climate Change will take forward matters that other colleagues might want to discuss, but which I cannot discuss today for fear of being ruled out of order.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his promotion and on being asked to respond to this debate here on a Friday. I want to ask him something about the amendment. The House rightly disapproves of retrospective legislation, but the amendment effectively constitutes prospective legislation. Will my hon. Friend tell me what kind of enactments he has in mind that might be brought within the amendment?

I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent question. I can see officials busily writing away as I speak. May I remind the House that he holds the record for the longest speech made here on a Friday? On that day, someone made 53 interventions to assist him in making the longest speech—[Interruption.] For the purposes of Hansard, I should like to point out that my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) was the person who has just passed me a note from the officials. I thank her for that. This demonstrates joined-up government and teamwork.

To answer the very good question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, for which I thank him, the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 includes a regulation-making power for the Secretary of State in relation to England, and for Welsh Ministers in relation to Wales, to prescribe sustainability standards, including in relation to energy efficiency. Once the power has been exercised, the resulting sustainability standard in relation to energy efficiency would be appropriate for local authorities to use when setting energy efficiency standards for their areas in reliance on the Bill. My hon. Friend made an important point about the Lords amendment. We have allowed for the possibility that this power might be superseded or supplemented in future by other powers. If he has any further queries during the course of my short speech, I will obviously be happy to answer them.

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but we both know what Madam Deputy Speaker said last time he intervened, and I am keen for him not to be rebuked again in Hansard.

I think that it will be in order for me to ask this question. Were we to enact this Bill, as I hope we will, would feed-in tariffs be an appropriate subject for future legislation as a direct result of that—

Order. I am afraid that, although the hon. Gentleman has tried very hard, he has unfortunately failed.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think you will admit that the hon. Gentleman’s questions are getting better.

The amendment makes its own important contribution to reducing emissions and tackling climate change. It sits neatly with the fundamental measures that the Government are taking to cut emissions and tackle climate change. Those include the Climate Change Bill and the Energy Bill, which are now progressing through this House and the other place respectively, and the Planning Bill, which is now before the other place. The Planning Bill, which is relevant to the amendment, contains important measures that will help to deliver renewable energy projects—

I will, but may I just finish this passage? I fear that, if I lose my place, I might have to begin again.

The Planning Bill also includes a key clause—[Interruption.] Sorry, was that an intervention? I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am new at this, and I am not sure whether I am being heckled or laughed at. The Planning Bill includes a key clause that will place a duty on local councils, when preparing their local plans, to take action on climate change.

I am very worried about the prospective application of the amendment. My hon. Friend has referred to an Act of Parliament that has already gone through, and I can understand why we should perhaps not refer to it by name in an amendment to the Bill. However, he has also referred to other Bills that have not yet passed through the House. Would it not be more appropriate to amend those Bills as they go through the House, so that we are not legislating prospectively, and to refer in this Bill only to the Act that has already gone through?

As usual, my hon. Friend raises an important point. It is worth reminding him, however, of the extra powers the Bill will deliver. It places in legislation the power for local councils to make policies on local energy requirements for new developments. He might have missed this, so it is important to remind him that this provides the reassurance that some councils were looking for. It reassures them that they can go further and faster than building regulations, but within the national framework. It also means that there will be no place to hide for any local authority that does not want to take up this agenda. It also underlines everyone’s commitment to using local—including on-site and near-site—green energy in new developments.

A final point, which is also relevant to the point that my hon. Friend raised, is that the measures protect against the possibility of there being no planning policy, because if planning policy is cancelled, this legislation will remain in place. If my hon. Friend has further questions, I will try to answer them. I can see the officials busily writing away, and I am sure that another note will be passed to me soon. I do not mind if it is passed to me by a member of the Cabinet or someone else.

I am sorry to intervene on my hon. Friend for a third time, but it might give the officials time to write the answer to my last question. I have listened to what he has just said, but it did not really relate to the point that I raised. I certainly support the Bill, and I remember expressing my support for the various points that he has raised in the debates that we had in the House on previous occasions. However, the real point here is a matter of principle. This is not so much to do with the Bill itself as with the principle of prospective legislation. As I mentioned in my first intervention, the House rightly disapproves of retrospective legislation, but we have here a new constitutional line being developed by effectively giving a blank cheque in relation to what might come along in the future. I suggest to my hon. Friend that it would be more appropriate for this to be done by means of the Act in question cross-referring back to this Bill, rather than by trying to anticipate what might or might not happen in the future.

I do not have the joy of being the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, but I thought that most legislation was, by definition, prospective, because it is not retrospective. I am sure that, during the course of my short speech, I will come to the point that my hon. Friend has raised, in my own way. If I do not, I will respond to it once a note has been passed to me.

Perhaps the best way to interpret the amendment is to see it as an attempt to interpret future enactments in a way that is compatible with this Bill, so that if, by some mischance, future legislation did not refer to the Bill, it would not be taken as an implied repeal of the Bill. This is just a matter of protection against future accidents. Although the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) is correct about the normal way in which we do things, I think that this is a perfectly reasonable amendment.

I gratefully accept the ring thrown into the pool by the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth), who demonstrates why Cambridge has some of the world’s greatest academics and why I am grateful that he came in to support this important Bill of the hon. Member for Sevenoaks. The Planning Bill contains important measures that will help in delivering renewable energy projects.

To move on from the passage I was referring to before I was intervened on and lost my train of thought and the place in my speech, the Bill adds to Government Bills by building into the legislation the powers of local councils to make policies on local energy requirements for new developments. It makes a positive contribution to the clear need for local authorities to take action to tackle climate change locally. Importantly, it will do so now.

Both this private Member’s Bill and the proposed duties in the Planning Bill are underpinned by the planning policy statement on climate change that was published last December. That PPS contains our detailed policy on what we expect of our planning authorities, giving a strong boost to local energy planning, local renewables and low-carbon energy. This is our “Merton-plus” approach, building on the Merton rule. Since this Bill was last debated in the Commons, we have also consulted on our renewable energy strategy, which outlined the Government’s proposal for meeting the UK share of the EU-wide target for renewable energy. The proposal is to achieve 15 per cent. of the UK’s energy from renewables by 2020.

Let me move on to deal specifically with the Lords amendment. There have been lengthy discussions of various issues raised by the Bill, and I am pleased that they have been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction without the need for a substantial amendment. I am grateful that the other place did not consider it necessary to revisit any of the points raised during the passage of the Bill in the Commons. That demonstrates how well the Committees of this House worked to produce a workable Bill.

There was, however, one point of detail that the other place needed to address and it is worth explaining it to colleagues who may not have seen the record of the debate. The concern of the other place resulted in just one technical amendment. I can assure the House—this also deals with the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon—that the amendment does not affect the substance of this private Member’s Bill. The reason why the Bill needed amendment is straightforward and we should thank the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in the other place for spotting the necessity for it. It enables us to correct the reference to regulatory-making powers and to improve the Bill’s clarity. It was unfortunate that the amendment was needed and that it was necessary for the Bill to come back to this place, but the fact that we are here today demonstrates the will to see the Bill through to what I am sure will be a successful conclusion.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon was keen for me to answer his point directly, so I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe for passing me a note a few moments ago, which will enable me to respond to his query. I want to assure the House and my hon. Friend that the power given to local authorities properly relates to the prevailing energy efficient standards set by Parliament in the future. My hon. Friend’s suggestion would mean that every piece of future legislation would have to refer to this Bill, and I believe that that was the point made by the hon. Member for Cambridge when he rescued me from my inability directly to answer my hon. Friend’s point.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I sympathise in that he does not have his Parliamentary Private Secretary with him to do his running today, but I see that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is present and she is doing an excellent job in supporting the Minister. Let me tell him, however, that what he is effectively saying is that he has no faith in the parliamentary draftsmen. Surely they, who are paid enormous amounts of money to do this work, should be capable of getting the cross-references correct in future legislation.

I shall come on to the point about the parliamentary counsel, but either we believe in devolution or we do not: it is for local authorities to set the targets and I believe that that is the right way for us to deal with these issues. As I said, I will come on a little later in my short speech to deal with my hon. Friend’s point about the parliamentary counsel.

Returning to the Lords amendment, in early May this year, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in the other place drew to our attention a concern that the Bill, as drafted when it left this House, appeared to give a regulation-making power to set energy efficient standards. I hasten to add that this was not spotted by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon. Unfortunately—

I will in a moment; I am not scared! [Interruption.] I feel that I am being heckled by a former mentor.

My point is that the Bill appeared to give a regulation-making power to set energy efficient standards. Unfortunately, the Bill was slightly deficient in not specifying the parliamentary procedure for that power. I am, of course, now happy to give way to my hon. Friend.

I am astounded at my hon. Friend’s suggestion that I should have missed something on a Report stage of a Bill on a Friday. I did actually look at that issue and I felt that it was dealt with appropriately. That is why I am probing the Minister today—because I am very concerned about prospective legislation. Had I supported such legislation, I might have brought this sort of amendment forward myself at the time—but I do not, so I did not.

I hope that my hon. Friend will not feel so concerned about the matter that he will divide the House. Let me continue.

My noble Friend Baroness Andrews wrote to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on 11 June—this is relevant to the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon—setting out how the Government, in agreement with the hon. Member for Sevenoaks, intended to address the issue. It was a team effort. In its 10th report, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee noted that Baroness Andrews had written to its Chairman to explain that the Government intended to propose an amendment to the Bill. The amendment was intended to remedy the drafting deficiency, which, as we have just heard, was spotted by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, but who failed to raise it on Report and who did not feel it sufficiently important to require amendment at that stage. Notwithstanding all that, the Lords amendment remedies the drafting deficiency.

As I have said, the Bill, as brought from this House, unintentionally and imperfectly created a delegated power. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in the other place reported that if the Bill were amended in the way explained by my noble friend Baroness Andrews, it would not delegate legislative powers. I can assure the House that the error—it was an error—was purely technical. It was a drafting slip by the parliamentary counsel, for which the lawyers have apologised for not spotting.

The Minister is answering the point raised earlier by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore). Parliamentary slips can happen, which is why we need this Lords amendment.

As I am constantly reminded by my nine-year-old, we are all human and we all make mistakes. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, speaking from the Liberal Front Bench, for realising that, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon would also accept that we are all human.

As I was explaining, the error was purely technical and the lawyers have apologised for not spotting it. For the benefit of those who are not lawyers, it might be worth trying to explain the implications in layman’s terms. The problem was with the drafting of the then clause 1(2)(a) in that it did not clearly refer to regulation-making powers in other legislation. It seemed to create a new power for the Secretary of State to set energy efficiency standards, which would not have been subject to any parliamentary controls. That was never the intention and it is precisely why the Bill had not included a procedure setting out how such a power would operate.

I thank the Minister for that explanation. I very much sympathise with the view of hon. Member for Hendon that a court would have been very unlikely to have interpreted the Bill as originally drafted as creating in itself a separate order-making power for the very reason that the Minister just outlined, as the Bill does not include any procedure, conditions or limitations relating to such a power. The Bill’s original phrasing would have been interpreted as meaning “under any other enactment”, not just as creating a power by itself. I am grateful for the amendment clarifying that, but I would not accept that a mistake had been made.

I think it was a slip. We all like to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, and if we provide clarity, lawyers are used less to try to interpret legislation. I know that the hon. Gentleman is in favour of plain English. If we can clarify things on their return from the other place, it is only right to do so.

The intention was to refer to regulation-making powers in other legislation, but that was overlooked in the final drafting of the clause. Appropriate regulation-making powers already exist in other legislation and there was no need for the hon. Member for Sevenoaks to introduce new powers. That would have been unnecessary duplication. The intention was for local authorities, in setting energy efficiency standards, to choose only those standards that have been set out or referred to in regulations made by the Secretary of State, or which are set out or endorsed in national policies or guidance issued by the Secretary of State.

That approach was taken with a view to avoiding the fragmentation of building standards, which could lead to different standards applying in different areas of the country. Although supportive of the hon. Gentleman’s Bill, that was not an outcome that we wanted to achieve.

After consulting the hon. Gentleman and writing to the Chairman of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in the other place, my noble Friend Baroness Andrews aimed to clarify the intentions behind the reference to regulation-making powers. Her memorandum said:

“The Committee Clerk has advised that Clause 1(2)(a) creates a delegated power to make regulations but because of the way it plays with Clause 1(1)(c) and 1(3)(a) does not do so correctly. Our intention here was not to create a new power but to refer to regulation-making powers contained in other legislation. The drafting of the reference is unfortunately not clear enough, and we intend to explain at Lords Second Reading how we will put this right. We will ensure that an amendment which addresses your Committee’s concerns is laid for consideration at the Bill’s Committee stage.

We have discussed with Parliamentary Counsel, and although we do not yet have final drafting for the amendment, we expect that it will involve the insertion of the words ‘by or under any other enactment’ or similar, after ‘regulations made by the appropriate national authority’. We will write to you again when we have the final draft.”

My noble Friend subsequently wrote to the Committee enclosing a draft of the appropriate amendment. That successfully dealt with the concerns of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in the other place, and the amendment was subsequently laid in the other place. The amendment the Government tabled, which we are discussing today, inserts in clause 1(2)(a) the words

“under or by virtue of any other enactment (including an enactment passed after the day on which this Act is passed)”.

That, in our view, clarified the fact that the intention was to refer to regulation-making powers contained in other legislation. I am pleased to report that the amendment was accepted by the other place.

As you may be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in the other place performs a very important role. The Committee is appointed by the other place each Session, with the orders of reference

“to report whether the provisions of any Bill inappropriately delegate legislative power, or whether they subject the exercise of legislative power to an inappropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny”.

It is fortunate that the Committee exists and ensures that the legislation we produce is workable and does not contain the kind of error that has led to the debate today.

Leaving aside the question of feed-in tariffs, to what extent does the Minister feel that this measure improves in a practical sense the potential for joint operations between the Government and local authorities in trying to achieve carbon reduction targets? I ask because although we have had a fairly theoretical and almost esoteric debate, it will be useful only if it achieves the shared environmental goals that I think we all agree with.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who managed successfully to intervene on his third attempt, as I reached the final paragraph of my speech. My seven-year-old often says, “Third time lucky.” She is clearly right.

The hon. Gentleman raised a point about local councils. The important thing is the power of local councils to make policies on local energy requirements for new developments. It demonstrates joined-up government between national Government and local government. It is important to give a sense of ownership so that residents feel that their local council is addressing their concern to have housing fit for the 21st century. I hope to see more and better working together between not only local MPs and local councils, but local government and national Government.

With great regret, I come to the final paragraph of my speech.

The hon. Gentleman, who is my good friend, will be on the Opposition Front Bench when the next Bill is considered. He asks me to go on, but I am afraid that I cannot, because I want to hear what he has to say.

I hope that, in the short time I have had, I have clarified for the House the background to the amendment, which I have considered at some length. I hope that I have not gone on for too long, but it is always important to be clear about the reasons for any change where matters of legislation are concerned.

I hope that I have fully explained the need for the amendment and that the House will accept it. I would hope that no one present today could find reason to object to it being included in the Bill.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Sevenoaks on this important private Member’s Bill. He has managed to secure partnership among MPs from all parts of the House to ensure that they work together. He worked hard with officials, and I am grateful to them for all their hard work during the Bill’s passage. There has been almost nine hours of debate in both Houses—proportionate time to ensure that we see progress being made on new developments.

I am also grateful for the patience and courtesy that the House has shown today, and for the working relationship that Front Benchers have established in securing the safe passage of the Bill. I support the hon. Member for Sevenoaks in saying that the House should agree with the other place in the said amendment.

I congratulate the Minister on his ministerial debut and on so skilfully negotiating his way through a rather technical first outing.

Conservative Front Benchers have been strong supporters of the Bill from day one, and it is refreshing to see the tack that the Minister has taken—the support, time and trouble that he has given to ensuring that the Bill gets on to the statute book.

One reason why we ought to be so conciliatory is the approach and tenor taken by Opposition Front Benchers and, more importantly, the personality of the hon. Member for Sevenoaks, who has managed to bring us together. One hopes that he can play a role in other areas of legislation, where greater working together may lead to greater fruits for the country.

I am sure that everyone will have heard those words. If we can help the Government in their hour of need, I am sure we will do so.

Send for Fallon indeed.

This is a technical amendment. The Minister went into great detail and has answered the questions, so I do not want unduly to delay the House. This is important legislation because it is key to fighting climate change. It promotes a drive towards new localism and is key to promoting energy independence.

The Bill will now, I hope, complete its passage, and the Government’s change of heart, after the initial obstruction, was greatly helped by the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). With the Minister at the Dispatch Box also being so supportive, we can all agree that the sooner the Bill reaches the statute book, the better.

It is unusual to be told, when one has prepared for one debate, that another debate has been put before it and that one has to read a brief on a very technical amendment before we get to the substance of the day. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) for his assistance in briefing me on this technical matter. With his learned knowledge, he may also have assisted the Minister earlier. I know the fear with which my hon. Friend is regarded in some circles because of his abilities, and his books sit in the Library and are referred to on such technical matters by all parties.

The amendment clarifies that the Bill does not create a new order-making power for national authorities—this Parliament and the Welsh Assembly—but simply relies on the existing powers of those authorities. The amendment brings clarification to the Bill’s intent to allow local councils to set targets in their areas for on-site renewable energy and on low-carbon electricity energy efficiency standards in addition to national requirements. The Bill will cover England and Wales, and it will also require developers to source at least 10 per cent. of any new building’s energy from renewable sources, implementing nationwide the so-called Merton rule. However, as Baroness Hamwee pointed out in the other place, Richmond is actually moving to 20 per cent., which shows that local authorities can make even greater progress. The rule was named after a planning policy first adopted by the London borough of Merton. The Government had implemented policies in this area, notably the planning policy statement on climate change, issued by the Government on 17 December 2007 after public consultation. Some councils, such as Merton, have already adopted environmentally friendly strategies, but the picture across England and Wales is rather mixed.

In conclusion—I have been brief, although that is not always the case when one speaks from the Front Bench—the Bill is much needed. I have in my constituency a company called Centrax, which makes combined heat and power units—

Order. I hope that the points that the hon. Gentleman intends to make are related to the Lords amendment.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman began his contribution by saying that the main substance of the day would come later. For the record, I wish to make it clear that—as far as we are concerned—this is the main substance of the day. This is a very important amendment from the other place, and we are pleased that the House is likely to accept it. It is important to clarify that point.

I am not sure that that was a point of order. Perhaps we could now concentrate on the remarks from the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) that relate to the Lords amendment.

Any comments that I made about substance referred to length of time, not necessarily import. This Bill is certainly more important than the next Bill, although—

Order. I have been fairly lenient with the hon. Gentleman, but I must now say that his comments must be in direct relation to the Lords amendment before us on this Bill.

With the leave of the House, I wish to thank colleagues who have supported this amendment this morning for their kind words. I also congratulate the Minister on his debut performance.

The only substantive point that has been made this morning is the allegation by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) that the Bill is somehow a blank cheque. I wish to reassure him on that point. The Bill could have been construed—although I agree with the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) that it was unlikely that a court would have done so—as conferring a new order-making power that did not exist elsewhere in authority. However, the Bill would ensure that any future enactment is fully approved by this House, so it is not a blank cheque. Therefore, if we want local authorities to go further and faster, as we do, they will be able to do so.

I remind the House that this is a permissive Bill. I am most grateful for the support that it has been shown, and I hope that it will now proceed.

Lords amendment agreed to.