House of Commons
Wednesday 14 September 2011
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
Transport for London (Supplemental Toll Provisions) Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Second Reading opposed and deferred until Wednesday 12 October (Standing Order No. 20).
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
The Government are totally committed to supporting disabled people into employment, and the amount of money going into that is being protected. A consultation event on the future strategy of Remploy is taking place in Glasgow today, and Remploy staff have been invited to attend.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman, who is a doughty fighter for Remploy, that no decisions have been made. I understand that he attended a meeting in the Scottish Parliament organised by Helen Eadie MSP that undertook to submit a response to the consultation on Remploy, and that response will be welcome.
The Dundee Remploy factory is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Dundee West (Jim McGovern), but many of my constituents work in it. The factory makes first-class chemical and biological suits, which are required by the emergency services and the military. I urge the Minister to speak not just to the Department for Work and Pensions, however important that might be, but to the Ministry of Defence and the Home Secretary to ensure that the emergency services and the military look carefully at what Remploy produces and, in particular, the quality of the suits that the Dundee factory makes.
The hon. Gentleman will know that his constituency neighbour has already met the MOD, which has confirmed the high standard and quality of the work Remploy does in its Dundee factory. However, I urge the hon. Gentleman and everyone in Scotland with an interest to take part in the consultation.
I am sure that the Minister is aware that as well as the Dundee factory there are seven other Remploy factories in Scotland. Does he accept that while his colleagues in the Government are talking about the importance of manufacturing it would be crass and foolhardy to embark on the closure of factories that provide goods and jobs, where public sector procurement could make the difference to ensure that they are viable in future? Will he make representations across Government to ensure that the jobs in those eight factories in Scotland are protected?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that it is not acceptable that around 50% of disabled people are out of work and that those who are in work often do jobs that are far below their potential. Closing the unemployment gap between disabled and non-disabled people could boost the overall economy by £13 billion, and the Government want to achieve that. We are undertaking a consultation; I urge him and everyone with an interest to take part in it.
2. When he last met representatives of the six largest energy providers in Scotland. (70961)
Energy price increases continue to be a matter of concern to the public and the Government. I recently discussed the issue with the six largest energy providers in Scotland as well as with consumer groups.
I thank the Secretary of State for that response, but he will no doubt be aware that the energy companies are now just a major cartel. I therefore suggest one of two options for him: either to give Ofgem the power to say no to the energy companies when they come forward with huge increases; or—even better—to return that power to this House.
We share the hon. Gentleman’s desire to be vigilant about everything that we see in the energy market, which is why the work of Ofgem and my colleagues in the Department of Energy and Climate Change is so important. The latest discussions with the energy companies took place in the last couple of weeks, building on those that I had earlier in the year. The energy companies are in no doubt that the Government expect them to look carefully at all their pricing policies, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will continue to be vigilant in that respect.
One hundred thousand pensioners in Glasgow face cuts totalling £4 million to their winter fuel allowance this year. At the same time, energy companies are putting up their prices by up to 20%. Does the Secretary of State agree that no pensioner in the UK should have to choose between heating their home and putting food on the table? If so, what is he going to do about this?
The hon. Gentleman is right to focus attention on some of the most vulnerable people in society, both in Glasgow and elsewhere in Scotland. I would point out to him that the winter fuel allowance will return to its previous level, as planned by the previous Government, and that the cold weather payments—on which we spent over £50 million last year—will continue at a higher level than before. I know that the hon. Gentleman studies these matters carefully, and he will be aware that, through our Warm Home discount scheme—a statutory scheme that is replacing the previous voluntary scheme run by the energy companies—we will ensure that we get more than double the amount of assistance to vulnerable households this winter and during the winters ahead.
I hope that the Secretary of State will take the opportunity to talk to renewable energy providers about the fact that the only way of getting the electricity generated in that way into the grid is via overhead pylons. Given that undergrounding takes place in alpine countries, will he insist that that happens in the highlands and the north of England as well?
I understand the sensitivity of the issue that my hon. Friend raises; indeed, it occurs across the country. This matter must be carefully considered, and the proposals for the transmission network must take full account of environmental and other planning considerations.
In his discussions with the energy companies, has the Secretary of State discussed the 1 million households that are not on the gas main? What are the energy companies going to do to extend the gas main and give those households the opportunity to use a cheaper fuel than oil?
We are keen to ensure that consumers have as much choice as possible, whether through extending the transmission networks for all different kinds of energy or through looking at ways of enhancing competitiveness in the market by increasing transparency and improving smart meters. All those measures need to be looked at, and I will certainly put the right hon. Gentleman’s point to the energy companies the next time we talk.
People are acutely aware of the problems caused by the weather last winter and the winter before that. That is why the measures to keep resilience in the network are particularly important. Equally, however, we need to recognise that that adds cost to consumers, which is why we are maintaining the cold weather payments. We will also have the winter fuel allowance and, through our new measures, we will enhance the support for vulnerable people across Scotland.
Many of my constituents, particularly those on low incomes, are struggling with the large increases in their gas and electricity bills. I very much welcome the recent news that Ofgem has brought in a firm of specialist auditors to help its investigation into whether the high energy prices are really justified, and I look forward to seeing its report at the end of the year. Will the Secretary of State and his colleagues ensure that Ofgem has all the necessary support to carry out a thorough investigation, and sufficient powers to sanction the big six, in particular, if, as I expect, it finds that they have been acting unfairly?
Certainly, a feature of the discussions that I have been having recently is that many of the energy companies recognise that they need to regain the trust of the consumer concerning price rises and the reasons that they have come about. In the next few weeks I will be bringing energy companies and consumer groups in Scotland together to look at these issues in detail. I will ensure that the companies focus on the appropriate responses and that we take away whatever work we need to do.
Given that surveys conducted by Consumer Focus Scotland show that nine out of 10 people who bought energy products on the doorstep would never do so again, does the Secretary of State agree that it is time for all energy providers in Scotland—not just four—to end the practice of cold calling? If so, when will the Government introduce legislation to ensure that this foul practice ceases?
I join the hon. Lady in condemning the sharp practice that has been on display in many parts of the country, particularly in Scotland. That is one of the issues that we will discuss in the meeting that I mentioned in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson). We are determined to get the companies to recognise that that is an unacceptable practice.
At a time when Scottish and Southern Energy will be adding an average of £171 a year to each of its customers’ electricity and gas bills, tipping thousands of people in Scotland into fuel poverty, and when other energy providers are following suit, does the Minister agree that it is unfair and morally inappropriate that its chief executive officer received a bonus of £2 million on top of his £840,000 salary when the wholesale prices of energy were actually going down?
Remuneration is a matter for the energy companies themselves, but all of us have to ensure that we are carefully focused on the performance and behaviour of all these companies, which is why I have been ensuring that their focus is on what their consumers, and particularly the most vulnerable, need. The hon. Lady is right to focus on fuel poverty: at the end of 2009, a third of Scottish households were measured to be in it. The measures I have already outlined will go a long way towards helping to tackle it.
Highlands and Islands (Economy)
Despite challenging international circumstances, the UK and Scottish economies are growing, rebalancing and creating jobs. The Government are creating a new model of economic growth that is more evenly balanced across the UK.
I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. He has welcomed, as have we all across Scotland, the formal confirmation of university status for the University of the Highlands and Islands. As he knows, the university has put in an application to the Scottish Government for an additional £3 million in view of the extra demands now being placed upon it. Is that something to which my right hon. Friend can give his discreet support?
I am always happy to look at these cases and provide support as necessary. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that this is an important step forward for the highlands and islands. I hope that the Scottish Government will reflect carefully on what he and others have been saying.
I think that everybody in the House is aware of the realities of fuel taxation. I am therefore sure that the hon. Gentleman was welcoming the fact that in our Budget earlier this year we reduced fuel duty rather than increasing it in the way the previous Government had planned. This question gives me the opportunity to remind the House that we have made further progress in the derogation for highlands and islands fuel prices, which is very welcome news indeed, so that we can get a reduction in fuel duty in the islands.
The highlands and islands economy is being held back by the high price of fuel. I warmly welcome the Government’s progress on the island fuel discount and on the cut in fuel duty in this year’s Budget. However, a further increase in fuel duty is planned for January; if the price of fuel remains high, I hope that that will not go ahead. Will the Secretary of State make representations to the Chancellor?
I am very aware from my own travels around Scotland, particularly to my hon. Friend’s constituency, of the extremely challenging circumstances for users of cars and vehicles across rural areas and, indeed, all of Scotland. I therefore particularly welcome, to repeat my earlier point, the Budget reduction and the European Commission's announcement about its support for our derogation. We want to keep all these things in balance. My hon. Friend’s comments will have been heard by the Chancellor, but he alone is responsible for taxation matters.
It is to be welcomed that unemployment is down in Scotland and that employment is up, but challenges remain, not least in the north of Scotland where, because of defence cuts, £30 million will be lost every year due to the closure of RAF Kinloss as an airbase. Will the Secretary of State confirm that no specific financial support has been provided by the UK Government to help deal with that economic shock?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that, in reaching some difficult and complex decisions over the future not only of RAF basing but of that of the Army and Navy, too, we will see an increased footprint in Scotland as a whole. In the hon. Gentleman’s own area, we will see additional Army resources going into Kinloss in particular. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that discussions on how to support the communities through the next few years are at an early stage, but I am looking forward to them continuing in the constructive manner in which they have started.
Everyone will have noted that the Secretary of State was not able to confirm that there has been any specific financial support—because there has not been. It has been nearly a year since the announcement of RAF Kinloss’s closure as an airbase and more than two months since confirmation about the Army deployment. Agencies supported by the Scottish Government have been active in support of economic diversification. In contrast, the UK Government have provided little or no details to these local agencies to assist in the transition. Why is that?
I have discussed the matter with the Scottish Finance Secretary on a couple of occasions. The Scotland Office continues to be engaged with the taskforces, both in the hon. Gentleman’s part of the world and in Fife. We are working hard to ensure that the detail and all the other aspects of the plan are in place, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the announcements when they are made.
Public Disorder (England)
Scottish forces gave assistance to forces in England through the provision of police support units. During the debate in the House on 11 August, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said:
“I am aware of the excellent role that Scottish police officers played, particularly helping the West Midlands force. I saw for myself their impact when they arrived in Birmingham, and it is very good that our forces can co-operate in that way.”—[Official Report, 11 August 2011; Vol. 531, c. 1081.]
As the Prime Minister made clear on 11 August, Strathclyde police have achieved significant success—particularly in Glasgow—in pursuing gang-related initiatives, including a community initiative to reduce violence. They are committed to working with the Metropolitan police and other forces in England to share best practice in that regard.
During the recess, I spent six days with Lothian and Borders police as part of the parliamentary police scheme. The people with whom I worked were concerned about the possibility that the call on Scottish forces would deny them, for example, any holidays in August next year during the Olympics, and also about the possible impact on the budget of Scottish forces. Is the Secretary of State lobbying to secure adequate recompense for the Scottish forces for the contribution that they have made, and will make in the future, to English policing?
The hon. Gentleman will know that there are arrangements with the Home Office for occasions when police forces are deployed from other parts of the United Kingdom. However, I am sure that the Home Secretary has heard the specific points made by the hon. Gentleman, and I will raise them directly with the Scottish Government.
West Lothian Question
11. What recent discussions he has had with the Deputy Prime Minister on establishing a commission on the West Lothian question. (70971)
I have regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister on a range of issues, and last week the Government announced the steps that we are taking to establish a commission on the West Lothian question.
The details of the commission’s remit and the time scale will be announced by the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper)—the Minister responsible for constitutional reform—at the appropriate moment, as he indicated last week. As for all the issues to be considered by the commission, I am sure that its members have heard the hon. Gentleman’s opening bid.
The commission will not give specific consideration to the Barnett formula, or to funding arrangements around the United Kingdom. We have made a separate commitment within the coalition agreement to look at all those matters when we have achieved our primary objective of sorting out the public finances.
We now have an opportunity to consider carefully the issues that were first so famously posed back in 1977. As devolution has developed over recent years, the need to address these issues has become more urgent. We are keen for that to be done, which is why we are the first Government to set up a commission to look at the issues, and we look forward to its getting on with its work.
May I invite the Secretary of State to ignore the little Englanders behind him and the little Scotlanders behind me, and tell us that we are going to allow Scottish MPs to discuss Scotland in a Scottish Grand Committee? Will he reconvene that Committee as soon as possible?
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is embarrassed by the four grouped questions, which were obviously planted by his Front-Bench colleagues. When he is looking into all the matters under discussion, will he remember London, and perhaps treat Scotland in the same way as London has been treated?
I have no idea what the hon. Gentleman is saying about these questions, but perhaps he would like to look to the way in which the previous Government behaved; indeed, perhaps he is trying to give us an insight into that. All I will say to him is that, unlike the previous Government, we are determined to recognise that there is an issue that needs to be discussed and considered. It is complex, as there are lots of issues that we will have to consider, but then the House can get on with doing all the work it needs to do.
Does the Minister agree with me as a West Lothian Member of Parliament that it is deeply unsatisfactory that a commission on a constitutional issue affecting Scotland has been set up with no opportunity for any consultation on its terms of reference or any involvement by Parliament until the commission presents its findings?
I am sorry that that is the hon. Gentleman’s attitude. I thought he would welcome the fact that we are setting up the commission. I am sure that when it is set up, he will want to contribute to it. He raised some issues, including on the terms of reference, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary in the Cabinet Office has made it absolutely clear that we will listen to all the points that are made to us. [Interruption.]
Employer National Insurance Holiday
As of 7 September 2011, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has received 922 successful applications for the national insurance holiday scheme from new businesses located in Scotland. Of the 396 applications received for the 2010-11 financial year, 386 claimed the national insurance contributions holiday, supporting approximately 1,300 new jobs.
Should not the Minister be lobbying the Chancellor to create a proper strategy for growth for Scottish manufacturing and construction, instead of offering such complacent support for a scheme that has created less than 10% of the jobs that were forecast and that has been described by the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland as badly designed and failing to deliver at a time when the country needs the creation of new jobs?
We will certainly not be taking any lectures on national insurance from Labour, a party that sought to introduce a jobs tax in 2009. [Interruption.] I had the benefit of visiting the hon. Gentleman’s constituency last week, and I would have thought that he welcomed the fact that these jobs that did not exist before and that they have a better chance of becoming permanent with the NIC holiday—[Interruption.]
It seems you are not alone, Mr Speaker.
Job creation is majorly affected by fuel costs. In my constituency in Stornoway fuel is £1.50 a litre and in Uist it is £1.57. A huge component of those prices is the cost of distribution from the refineries. A few months ago, the Secretary of State gave me assurances that he would look into this. Can the Minister update me on any progress that has been made regarding fuel distribution from refineries?
I can update the hon. Gentleman on the progress on receiving the derogation from the EU to allow fuel prices in his constituency and other remote parts to be lower than they currently are. I should have thought that he welcomed this coalition Government’s delivering that commitment.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Grieving families on Teesside are waiting many months and sometimes many years to have inquests into the deaths of their loved ones concluded. Apparently that is much longer than the wait anywhere else in the country. They have suffered enough. Will the Prime Minister stop the messing about now and instruct the Justice Secretary to sack the incompetent Teesside coroner?
I will certainly look at the particular case that the hon. Gentleman raises. As he knows, we have been reforming coroner services and putting money and resources into them to try to make them more effective, but I shall certainly take up the individual case that he makes.
Will the Prime Minister give us an update on his recent visit to Russia, especially in relation to the tragic murder of Mr Litvinenko, whose widow lives in my constituency? That case also caused a risk to public safety. Will the Prime Minister meet her to give her an update?
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to Alexander Litvinenko’s widow before I travelled to Moscow. Let me be absolutely clear that the British Government have not changed their view one jot about how wrong it was for that murder to take place and about how we need a proper explanation about what happened and who was responsible. We want justice for that family. We have not changed our view, but I do think it is right, at the same time, to try to build a better relationship with Russia across a whole range of issues. We have common interests in trying to grow our economies and our trade and we have common interests in working together on issues such as the middle east peace process. I made sure when I went to Russia that I raised not just the Litvinenko case but many other human rights cases, including the Magnitsky case, with the Russian President and others. I think that is the right way to conduct our international relations.
First, let me say that these unemployment figures are disappointing—I do not want to hide from that. Every lost job is a tragedy for that family and I want to do everything I can, and this Government will do everything they can, to help those people back into work. That is why we have 360,000 apprenticeships starting this year, that is why we have 10,000 extra university places, and that is why, in the Work programme, we have the biggest back-to-work, welfare-to-work programme this country has seen since the 1930s. But at the same time, let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is right that we get on top of our debts and our deficits, and today of all days shows the danger of getting into the position that other European countries are in where their whole credibility is being questioned.
People are going to judge the Prime Minister on results. They do not want to hear his spin about the Work programme. Youth unemployment is up by 78,000, on today’s figures, even after his Work programme has started. What young people and their families are asking is, “Where are the jobs?”
The Work programme is the best way to help young people—indeed, all people—back into work. Of course, as I have said, the figures are disappointing, but we should not ignore the fact that since the election there are 500,000 more jobs in the private sector. There are more people—300,000 more people—in work than there were a year ago. Let me just say to the right hon. Gentleman that there is not one ounce of complacency in this Government about the need to do more to help people back to work. We have a growth plan that includes cuts in corporation tax, freezing the council tax, cuts in petrol duty, introducing the regional growth fund, and making sure we have enterprise zones in every part of our country, but in every week and in every month we will be adding to that growth programme so we help people get back to work.
The right hon. Gentleman and his Government are the byword for complacency in this country on the issue of unemployment. Youth unemployment was falling at the general election, and it has risen on his watch; it is his responsibility. Women’s unemployment, too, is at its highest level since 1988, and he is making the situation worse by cutting the child care tax credit. How does it make sense, when unemployment is rising for women, to cut the support that helps them back into work?
Let me just remind the right hon. Gentleman that youth unemployment went up by 40% under the last Government—278,000 more young people were unemployed when he was sitting in the Treasury and breaking our banking system and bankrupting our economy. That is what the people remember.
Now, when it comes to child care, what this Government are doing—we are the first Government to do it—is making sure that there are 15 hours of free child care for every four-year-old and every three-year-old, and we have extended that to every two-year-old. We have focused the tax credit system on the poorest people in our country, so that child tax credits are going up by £290 this year and next for those who need it the most. But let me just say to the right hon. Gentleman that, on a day when France and Germany are meeting to stop Greece going bankrupt, he must be the only person in the world who thinks that you spend more to get out of a debt crisis.
It is no wonder that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to talk about the British economy and what is happening here, because of what is actually happening. And not for the first time, he is wrong in what he says at the Dispatch Box: youth unemployment was falling at the general election, and now it is rising. Why is it not working? The reason is that his claim and the Chancellor’s central claim that the public sector could be cut and the private sector would make up the difference is not happening. For every two jobs being cut in the public sector, less than one is being created in the private sector. Is that not the clearest sign yet that his policy just is not working?
So now we have it, Mr Speaker: the right hon. Gentleman wants to tell us about the golden inheritance left by the last Government—the fact that they completely bust our banking system, the fact that they doubled the national debt and the fact that they gave us the biggest budget deficit in Europe that we are still recovering from—and he cannot even be consistent inside one day. This is what he said yesterday to the TUC: “You cannot spend your way to a new economy.” Just 24 hours later, he has changed his tune all over again. No wonder the last Chancellor of the Exchequer said that they have no credibility whatsoever.
What an insult to the people up and down this country who have lost their jobs! The right hon. Gentleman does not even try to answer the question about his central economic strategy to cut the public sector and make the private sector make up the difference. It is not happening, and the truth is, look at what has happened over the past year: Britain has grown slower than any other EU country, apart from Portugal and Romania. Now can the Prime Minister tell the country and the people who have lost their jobs what he is going to do differently over the next year compared with what he did over the last year?
Let me answer directly this point about unemployment in the public sector. All Governments right now are having to take difficult decisions about cutting public spending. Anyone standing here would have to make those decisions. This Government are reducing the welfare bill and reforming public sector pensions. If we were not taking those steps, deeper cuts would have to be made in terms of the rest of the public sector. The right hon. Gentleman would be having even more unemployment in the public sector. That is the truth. When will he learn what I thought he said yesterday, “You cannot spend your way to a new economy”? Is that still his view 24 hours later?
So the message to all those people who have lost their jobs is that the Prime Minister is not going to change course. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has lashed himself to the mast. [Interruption.] Not for the first time perhaps. Youth unemployment is at its highest level for 19 years and women’s unemployment is at its highest level for 23 years—the highest levels since the last time there was a Tory Government. It turns out that he is just like all the others: for him, unemployment is a price worth paying.
It is this Government who are cutting corporation tax, who have frozen council tax, who have cut petrol duty, who introduced the regional growth fund, who ended Labour’s jobs tax, who have the biggest apprenticeship programme in decades, and who have increased capital spending compared with what Labour left behind. The truth is that it was the last Government who robbed young people of their future by piling up the debt. It is this Government who will deal with our debts and give them back their future.
Q2. The Prime Minister will be aware that the consultation on the draft national planning policy framework will end next month. Will he confirm that the Government’s proposals will ensure that local residents will be at the forefront of decision making, that important green spaces will retain their existing protection, and that this will not become a developers charter? (71524)
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. We need reform, as the current system is too slow and bureaucratic, and it does not give local people enough of a say. We are replacing a vast, 1,000-page bureaucratic guide with something that is much shorter. Local development plans will mean that local communities and local people have a far greater say in what is developed and where, and we are not changing the rules on national parks, on the green belt and areas of outstanding natural beauty.
Let me just say this to everyone in the House, because I think there should be cross-party support on this issue. Today, the first-time buyer with no support from their family is aged 37. I think that is wrong. We need to build more houses, to help more young people to get on the housing ladder.
Q3. Last week, the Prime Minister told the House:“There are 25,000 police officers in back-office jobs”.—[Official Report, 7 September 2011; Vol. 532, c. 353.]
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary says that there are fewer than 8,000 police officers and police community support officers in back-office roles. Week after week, the House hears a litany of evasion, inaccurate answers and arrogant put-downs from the Prime Minister. We want a proper answer. Let us give the Prime Minister a chance today: is it the inspectorate or is it the Prime Minister? We won’t get an answer. (71525)
The hon. Gentleman is confusing two things: the number of police officers who are not on front-line duties, and the number of police officers who are in back-office roles such as IT or HR. Those are the figures that I gave, and those are the figures that are right. What makes the Opposition complacent is that they are not prepared to consider any reforms to try to get more police on to the front line and on to our streets.
I know that the Prime Minister is serious about tackling violent crime, antisocial behaviour and the fact that there are more than 1 million hospital admissions in England a year for alcohol-related conditions. Will he meet me to discuss the evidence that we need to go further on minimum pricing, availability and particularly the marketing of alcohol to young people?
I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend, who has made a lot of speeches and written a lot of articles about the issue, about which she feels passionately. She is right in many ways that there is a problem with binge drinking in our country. Much of it is related to very low-cost alcohol, particularly in supermarkets. I want to see an end to that deep discounting, rather than perhaps the way forward that she suggests, but I am happy to meet her and discuss this vital issue.
Q4. A poll last week showed that 68% of Scots want oil revenues devolved to Scotland. Does the Prime Minister agree with 68% of Scots or not? (71526)
If you ask a stupid question, you get a stupid answer. The fact is the whole of the United Kingdom rightly has invested in the North sea, and the whole of the United Kingdom should benefit from the North sea. We should do everything possible to keep the United Kingdom together because we are stronger—England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales—than we ever would be separate.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The current figures are simply not good enough. Only 14% of FTSE 100 company directors are women. We should do far better. We have some experience from the problems that we had in our own party and the need to take much more proactive action to make sure we have a better balance at the top of politics. We need a much better balance at the top of our boardrooms as well.
Q6. Are not the most vulnerable people in the care of the health service those silent voices who live in residential homes? Will the Prime Minister express his regret that under his watch there was, we hear today, a nearly three quarters reduction in the number of inspections—a 70% reduction—because money was moved from inspection to bureaucracy? Does not that again prove that the national health service is not safe in the hands of the nasty party? (71528)
The Health Committee report that is released today makes a very important point about the future and the work of the Care Quality Commission. It is important that it focuses on inspections and making sure that standards are high rather than simply on a process of registration and bureaucracy. I look forward to seeing the Government’s response to a very good report.
Was my right hon. Friend taught, at whatever school he happened to attend, that one of the key functions of Parliament over the centuries has been to diminish what the historians have called the overmighty subject. In the 18th century—[Interruption.]
In the 18th century, it was the Indian nabobs, denounced by Edmund Burke. In the 19th century, it was the ruthless industrialists, humanised by Shaftesbury. In the 20th century, it was the trade union leaders, tamed by Lady Thatcher. Today, the overmighty subject is the bankers. In the United States, the federal authorities are prosecuting a wide swathe of the top banks. When will that happen here?
My right hon. Friend obviously had a much better education than I did; that is apparent. Also, it was very good to hear him say something very positive about Margaret Thatcher. The serious point that my right hon. Friend makes is right: we do need to see responsibility from our bankers. I support what Vickers has said in terms of the reforms that we need, and to answer my right hon. Friend’s question directly, if people break the law, no matter where they come from or who they are, they should face the consequences and be punished.
Q7. What does the Prime Minister think of local authorities encouraging developers to put in planning applications not on green belt but on greenfield sites in order to use the new homes bonus to balance their budgets? (71529)
I have the completely original and shocking view that these matters should be for local people and local authorities. In the past, we have had far too much top-down, central direction. People in Derbyshire should make up their own mind, through their local council, about what planning should take place and where. That is the agenda that this Government will follow.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have noted the recent sound advice that in order for a Government to operate effectively there should be complete unity at the top. With that in mind, will he assure the House and the country that he does not feel the need to re-write a Budget 48 hours before it is due?
I can confirm that these days those discussions take place in a proper way, between the two partners in the coalition, and that it is not a battle between Nos. 10 and 11. I should also say that when I have a meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer it is nothing like going to the dentist and there is no need for an anaesthetic.
Q8. I am sure that all parties in this House have welcomed the news that convicted fraudster and former Lib Dem donor Michael Brown has been found living under an assumed name in the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately, we have no extradition treaty with that country. Will the Prime Minister tell the House what steps the Government are taking to bring Mr Brown back to face justice? (71530)
We would like to extend these treaties to other countries, and I will certainly look into the case of the Dominican Republic and get back to the hon. Gentleman. While we are at it, perhaps we could have a search for the individual donor to the Labour party—I gather that there was only one and that he was called Alastair Campbell.
Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Burnley football club, which, in partnership with Buckinghamshire New university, has delivered the first university of football business in the UK, which has generated immense interest among young people in the UK and across Europe?
I happily join my hon. Friend in praising the work of Burnley football club. I have been very struck in this job by the privilege I have of seeing different football clubs working not only on their own football skills, but on inspiring young people, and not only here, but in other countries, as I saw with the work that Spurs football club is doing in South Africa. I think there is a huge role for football in helping to change people’s lives and I fully support what our clubs do.
Q9. Contrary to the Prime Minister’s answer at the Dispatch Box last week, will he confirm that the winter fuel allowance this year will be £50 less for the over-60s and £100 less for the over-80s? Age UK has called that a cut. Does he agree? (71531)
What I can confirm is that that payment will be exactly as set out by Labour in their March Budget, a Budget that the hon. Gentleman supported. At the same time, the increase in cold weather payments will actually be maintained throughout this Parliament.
Q10. Small and medium-sized enterprises are vital engines of economic growth in Macclesfield and across the country. Sadly, the cost of new regulations put on businesses under the previous Government amounts to a staggering £90 billion a year. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what this Government are doing to tackle that unacceptable burden on British businesses? (71532)
There is an unacceptable burden in terms of regulation, so the Government, specifically in relation to the retail sector, have already removed 257 regulations. We have the new one-in, one-out rule, so any Minister who comes to me wanting to introduce a regulation has to abolish one first. Also, the red tape challenge means that all regulations are being put up on a website for businesses and individuals to challenge to see what is still necessary and what we can get rid of.
Q11. The Prime Minister will be aware that right across the whole of the United Kingdom we have some excellent industries, businesses and trained staff within those companies, but surely the coalition’s decision to put off banking reform until after the next election will have a detrimental effect on those companies and cause major difficulty. (71533)
The point I would make to the hon. Gentleman is that we asked Professor Vickers to look at this issue, and he recommended legislating in this Parliament but introducing the reforms at the same time as the Basel changes are finalised in 2019, and that is exactly what we will do. At the same time, it seems to me vital that we address the failure of banks to lend enough money, particularly to small businesses. That is why we put the Merlin agreement in place. [Interruption.] Actually, bank lending is not going down, as the shadow Chancellor suggests—he is wrong about everything, even when he is sitting down. Bank lending is actually going up.
With the closure of the Derbyshire Building Society headquarters in my constituency, which is perfectly situated to take the green investment bank, and with the move from Derby to Nottingham of the Post Office sorting centre and evaluation offices, the closure of Courtaulds, with the loss of all but 70 jobs, and the potential closure of Bombardier, will the Prime Minister encourage his Secretaries of State to look at sending more civil service jobs to Derbyshire so that we can have more employment in the area?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I know that there are real concerns because of what has happened at Bombardier.
On the green investment bank, I know that there are going to be many bids from many parts of the country to house that excellent institution. On Bombardier, it is encouraging to hear that the Department for Transport is looking into the possibility of upgrading an existing fleet of Bombardier-built diesel trains to enable them to run using electric power. That could be a good breakthrough, but, on the previous contract, as we have discussed in the House before, the fact is that it was established by the previous Government and we had to follow those instructions. That is why the contract had to be awarded elsewhere, but we are looking to the future of Bombardier and the future of Derby, and we want to make sure that it is a bright future.
Q12. Last week the Prime Minister told the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) that he would do everything he could to help Bombardier, but the British train building industry is now hanging in the balance as a result of the plan to build trains in Germany rather than in Derby. Will he meet me and a cross-party delegation from Derby to discuss how we can review the contract—and it is possible to review it—in order to secure the future of the British train building industry and keep Bombardier in Great Britain? (71534)
We want to keep Bombardier in Great Britain, and we want to keep Bombardier working, which is why, as I have just said to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), there is that new opportunity, but the issue should be put in the context of the fact that we are putting a lot of investment into our rail industry: £14 billion into a network grant for Network Rail; £3.8 billion for Crossrail; and £750 million for High Speed 2. This is a Government who want to do more for our railway industry, and who want to do more for Bombardier after it was so badly let down by the previous Government.
Q13. Campaigners on the right want to get rid of the 50p tax rate and those on the left want to juggle with VAT. Does the Prime Minister agree that the most fair and progressive way to maintain confidence in the economy is to stick to the Government’s policies but accelerate the process of raising the tax threshold to £10,000? (71535)
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question, but we have raised the personal allowance significantly in our Budgets and taken more than 1 million people out of tax altogether, and we are committed to going further. On the 50p tax, we should look at the evidence. We are going to find out soon just how much money the tax is raising; let us look to see whether it is a good way of raising money or not.
Q14. When the Croydon riots hit our borough on that terrible Monday night, there were at most 100 police officers on the streets, including some very young community support officers, facing mobs hundreds and hundreds strong, as a result of which my borough was undefended, burnt and looted. May I put it to the Prime Minister, not as a partisan point but as a sensible point, that when the criminal facts change in England, as they did following the riots, a sensible Government would pause for thought and change their mind—and that the last thing they would do is reduce police numbers? (71536)
I went to visit Croydon and met the right hon. Gentleman and a number of people who had seen some shocking things happen in that borough which must not be allowed to happen again, but let me say to him that, even after the changes that we are making in police funding, the police will be able to surge as they did in Croydon, in Tottenham, in Manchester and in Salford. The problem on the night of the riots was that the surge did not take place soon enough, and he confuses the response to the riots in the immediate circumstances with what is happening to police funding. The police have assured me that they will be able to deliver on to the streets of London as many police as they did when they got control of the riots.
Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), will the Prime Minister agree to meet organisations such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the National Trust and so on to reassure them and their millions of members that the proposed changes to the planning system do not represent a blank cheque for developers?
I am very happy to meet anyone to discuss that, and I know that the National Trust has specifically already met the planning Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), and has had many reassurances about what the planning changes mean. Let me just say this again: because we are going to have stronger local plans, that will give local people a greater ability to decide what is in the local plan and what is out of the local plan. At the same time, having a presumption in favour of sustainable development will cut a lot of bureaucracy in our system, but we are not changing the rules for greenbelt, for areas of outstanding natural beauty, for sites of special scientific interest or for all the rest of it. I do think that people need to focus on that, because we need sensible, sustainable development to go ahead without the bureaucracy and the top-down system of today, but with all the reassurances that people need.
Q15. Last week the Prime Minister told the House that the number of young people not in education, employment or training was coming down. In actual fact, the published figures show that over the past three quarters it has risen by 27,000. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to correct the record? (71537)
I think the hon. Gentleman will find that what I actually said was that the number of 16 to 18-year-olds who are not in employment, education or training has come down. Indeed, it has come down, and that is a step forward, but the overall number for youth unemployment has gone up, and that is unacceptable. That is why we need the Work programme, more apprenticeships, and more university places—and that is what the Government are putting their money into.
I will certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating the winners. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), we need to do more to promote women in public life, whether in politics or in local government. This party took some steps, but I think, frankly, that we still have more to do, because there are many organisations in our country where we do not have equality of opportunity and where we need to have that equality of opportunity. It is not enough just to open the door and say that it is meritocratic and everyone is able to come in. There are occasions where you need to take positive action in order to get this done.
Now that the Prime Minister has committed himself fully to backing the boundary changes will reduce the number of MPs in this House, and to ensure that Prime Minister’s Questions reflects the subject that has been most debated in the corridors of Westminster over the past number of days, will he now also commit to delivering on the other pledge that he and his colleagues made before the election, which was to deal with the scandal of people who are elected to this House, do not take their seats, and yet continue to be paid millions of pounds in allowances, including the equivalent of Short money, which they can use for party political purposes while we have to use it for parliamentary purposes? Please give us a vote to deal with that scandal.
On the boundary review, we are trying to ensure a basic fairness, which is that every seat in the House of Commons should be the same size. Today, some seats have as many as 90,000 voters and some seats, including some in Wales, have as few as 40,000 voters. How can that possibly be fair? On Northern Ireland and the issue that the right hon. Gentleman raises, I have not changed my view about that one bit, and I do think it is an issue that needs addressing.
In Kenya last week, the father of my constituent Mr Oliver Tebbutt was killed, and his mother was kidnapped and remains missing. What steps are the British Government taking to assist in the return of Mrs Tebbutt and the apprehension of the murderers?
We are doing everything we possibly can on this desperately tragic case. I chaired a meeting of Cobra about this issue yesterday to make sure we are co-ordinating everything the Government do. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has met the family today. I think that in some of these cases it is not right to air all the issues in public, but I can reassure my hon. Friend, the family and all who know the Tebbutt family that we will do everything possible to help.
We come to the 10-minute rule motion. I call Dr Thérèse Coffey. [Interruption.] Order. Perhaps I can make my usual appeal to right hon. and hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber to do so quickly and quietly, affording the same courtesy to the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) that they would wish to be extended to them in comparable circumstances.
Provision of Hydration and Nutrition for the Terminally Ill
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to guarantee the right to provision of hydration and nutrition for terminally ill people; and for connected purposes.
Water is the essence of life; we all know that without it we die. That is one reason why I support the charity Water Aid, for which I did a sponsored walk last Saturday.
Another topic that will come up for discussion in Parliament soon is the Hillsborough disaster. One of the tragic cases that arose from that disaster was that of Tony Bland. To remind hon. Members, Tony Bland ended up in a permanent vegetative state and was kept alive for some years. However, Airedale NHS Trust applied, in effect, to end his life by withdrawing ventilation, nutrition and hydration. The Official Solicitor appealed against that application and was concerned that it would amount to effective murder. The case law subsequently established by Sir Stephen Brown in that judgment classified the provision of nutrition and hydration as medical treatment. After nine days without receiving nutrition or hydration, Tony Bland died on 3 March 1993.
Further judgments have been made on those principles and guidance has reinforced them. Concern has been expressed that such decisions could be applied not only to people in a permanent vegetative state, but to those with a declining illness. That has led to many differing views in this House. I do not want to get into the detail of the Liverpool care pathway, and the intention of this Bill is not to prevent or frustrate but to open up the discussion on this matter. It is an important topic that Members should want to discuss.
This is a difficult topic to discuss. I hope that people do not face it in their lives, but when it comes to the death of an elderly parent or relative, we need to face it with a conscious mind. I expect that taking the decision to remove nutrition and hydration is not easy for doctors, and I am not trying to remove any kind of medical judgment. For the avoidance of doubt, the Bill is not a Trojan horse to bring in euthanasia or assisted suicide, or to start force-feeding people. However, we have to recognise that death comes to us all and we have to face the discussion about whether we should prolong therapy or withhold it. There are other discussions to be had about whether therapy is futile. I hope the House will agree that withholding water or food from somebody and, in effect, ending their life in a potentially painful and distressing way, sometimes without relatives even knowing that that decision has been made, is wrong. One aim of palliative care is to help people to die as peacefully and painlessly as possible.
I do not intend to speak for long on this Bill, but I hope that Members will recognise that this is an important discussion to have and that they would not wish any of their relatives or friends to die of starvation or thirst, and so will support the Bill today. I commend the Bill to the House.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) for ensuring that this issue is raised in the House and that the debate on it is advanced. She approached the matter with characteristic thoughtfulness and great articulacy, as she has done on many occasions.
It was clear from the title of the Bill that this issue would bleed into the debate about the appropriate role of the Liverpool care pathway. Just as we debate many other issues, it is appropriate for this House to reflect on and debate the ethical questions that arise from this particular issue. As Benjamin Franklin said:
“In this world nothing can be said to be certain”—
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. Having heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal said, I have no intention of pressing the motion to a Division. However, the narrow title of the Bill relates to patients’ rights to hydration and nutrition, which raises the question of contradicting the General Medical Council’s advice—that is a medical decision rather than an issue of basic care.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
As I was saying, Benjamin Franklin said:
“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
As the House debates and comes to conclusions on taxes, it is also appropriate for us to consider—and to consider deeply—ethical questions such as the manner and process of death. We should ensure that end-of-life care and the ethical questions surrounding it are carefully considered.
It is my intention to deal not with the legal case surrounding the death of Tony Bland, but with the implications of the Bill on the GMC and on other guidance on the application of the Liverpool care pathway. Like others, I have been confronted by those issues, with the loss of a very close family member in recent months. Such questions inevitably and sadly confront us all.
Medical treatment of the terminally ill should be in the patient’s best interests. We should recognise that a blanket policy—of always providing, or of always not providing, artificial nutrition and hydration—would be ethically indefensible. Therefore, all decisions on medical interventions, which is what we are debating, should be based on sound, clinical judgment.
I agree with my hon. Friend that these matters should be kept under review. It is absolutely appropriate that the current guidance that applies is kept under review, and that the House of Commons and the House of Lords should be involved in debates on it.
The Liverpool care pathway is used in hospitals as a plan of care for patients in the last days and hours of their life. The pathway is recommended as best practice in the end-of-life care strategy. Patients should be involved in decision making wherever possible, and they have a right to refuse treatment in person, or in advance of a loss of capacity. Health care professionals should seek to provide the highest standards of care possible to dying patients. On occasion, that will involve recognising that a patient who is hours, or at most days, away from death, will be harmed rather than helped by the application of artificial nutrition and hydration.
The GMC guidance to doctors on end-of-life decision making states:
“All patients are entitled to food and drink of adequate quantity and quality and to the help they need to eat and drink…You must keep the nutrition and hydration status of your patients under review. You should be satisfied that nutrition and hydration are being provided in a way that meets your patients’ needs, and that if necessary patients are being given adequate help to enable them to eat and drink”,
hence the application of the artificial intervention to assist them.
The guidance also states:
“If a patient is expected to die within hours or days, and you consider that the burdens…of providing clinically assisted nutrition or hydration outweigh the benefits they are likely to bring, it will not usually be appropriate to start or continue treatment.”
Similar advice is provided by the National Council for Palliative Care.
The benefits of artificially provided nutrition and hydration include the potential to prolong life and improve general well-being. Artificial nutrition could prolong life in patients with obstructing tumours, such as throat cancers, or those with diseases that prevent them from swallowing, such as motor neurone disease. Artificial hydration could in certain circumstances also relieve thirst.
However, there are also risks. In some circumstances, artificial nutrition and hydration will only prolong the period of suffering, and there could be complications associated with having tubes inserted. Fluids given via drip can exacerbate oedema—swelling—and increase leakage into body spaces that can lead to a more distressing death, for example if fluids get into the lungs.
It is important, therefore, that in debating this issue, which I hope the the House will have time to do—because it needs to be kept under review—we will have an opportunity to consider the risks of continuing to apply artificial nutrition and hydration. That issue has been well covered by the General Medical Council and others in the clinical guidance that needs to apply here. The Liverpool care pathway has been accused of encouraging a tick-box culture that does not consider the whole patient and their needs. We have to ensure that the highest-possible clinical standards are applied when the LCP is administered. Equally, as my hon. Friend said, we have to strike a balance between the patient’s best interests and wishes and the wishes of the family close to the terminally ill patient. She emphasises, in the title of the Bill, that this is a matter of the right to treatment, but it is also a matter to be balanced with the right to ensure that medical interventions are in the best interests of patients. On that basis, I wish to ensure that we strike a balance when we debate the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
That Dr Thérèse Coffey, Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt, Harriett Baldwin, Jim Dobbin, Thomas Docherty, Mr Andrew Turner and Dr Julian Lewis present the Bill.
Dr Thérèse Coffey accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 25 November, and to be printed (Bill 230).
I am happy to advise the hon. Gentleman and the House. A Member introducing a ten-minute rule Bill has up to 10 minutes in which to do so. A Member who wishes to oppose the Bill similarly has up to 10 minutes in which to do so. Those 10-minute allocations are distinct and separate from each other. It is helpful if a Member who is opposing a ten-minute rule Bill makes it clear that that is what he or she is doing. There is, to be fair, no obligation to test the will of the House by submitting the matter to a vote, but it is important for the orderly and intelligible conduct of business that an opposing speaker makes it clear, preferably at the outset, for the benefit of the House, that the speech is one of opposition. I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s brow is no longer furrowed, that he is duly reassured and that the House as a whole is appropriately enlightened.
Energy Bill [Lords]
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 10
Green deal installation apprenticeships
‘(1) Before making the first framework regulations the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report on what, if any, steps the Secretary of State has taken to encourage green deal installation apprenticeships.
(2) A “green deal installation apprenticeship” is an apprenticeship which provides training on how to install energy efficiency improvements at properties.’.—(Gregory Barker.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: new clause 8—Support from the Green Investment Bank
‘(1) The Secretary of State must, within six months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, report to Parliament with proposals on the ways in which the Green Investment Bank could maximise the take up of the Green Deal.
(2) The report required by section (1) shall include an examination of the extent to which action taken by the Green Investment Bank could—
(a) reduce interest rates linked to the repayment of Green Deal loans and the impact this may have on consumer demand;
(b) support the research into and development of technologies which could increase household energy efficiency.’.
Government amendment 29.
Amendment 26, in clause 3, page 4, line 29, at end insert—
‘(j) Prohibiting the sale of products and services during Green Deal assessment and installation visits which are not eligible for Green Deal financing unless those products are recognised as being able to reduce household CO2emissions.’.
Government amendment 30.
Amendment 49, page 5, line 2, leave out ‘may’ and insert ‘will’.
Amendment 28, in clause 4, page 6, line 16, at end insert—
‘(9A) The ninth condition is that the green deal provider meets any requirement specified in the framework regulations as to the level of interest charged on the plan’.
Amendment 50, page 6, line 16, at end insert—
‘(9A) The ninth condition is that the green deal provider meets any requirement specified in the framework regulations to enable the consumer to compare recommendations and estimated costs and savings.’.
Amendment 27, in clause 5, page 6, line 34, at end add—
‘(e) a term permitting the improver to specify whether the instalments will be paid via his electricity bill or his gas bill;
(f) a term permitting the improver to change his decision taken pursuant to paragraph (e).’.
Government amendments 31 to 34.
Amendment 45, in clause 18, page 15, line 4, after ‘may’, insert ‘and may not’.
Government amendment 36.
It is a pleasure to be back in the House to debate this historic Energy Bill one last time before it moves back for the last time to the other place. To better inform the debate on the amendments before us, I shall update the House briefly on the progress made over the summer on a number of issues that were raised in Committee.
We had a lively discussion on measures eligible for green deal finance. That was led by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who championed the power shower. I committed to an early refresh of the Government paper to take into account queries about our position on water efficiency and recommendation of measures outside the green deal. That has been done. After our exploration in Committee of the detail of the energy company obligation—an important part of the Bill—I agreed that my officials would meet the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) to discuss our brokerage proposal. That has been done.
The private rented sector was another important subject of debate—fruitful debate, I hope—with contributions from the hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt), among others. I shall say more about that later. My officials are setting up a new workshop to look specifically at how the provisions can best work with older buildings, which present a challenge to the green deal, particularly older historic buildings.
Lastly, I am pleased to report progress on energy efficiency for service family accommodation, following the excellent suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith). My officials have had a number of meetings with their counterparts in the Ministry of Defence and, having agreed the shared objective of improving the energy efficiency of accommodation, are investigating the best ways to achieve that. As I mentioned in Committee, it is a complex problem owing to the unique nature of service family accommodation. None the less, I am optimistic that a solution will be found to satisfy the House and, most importantly, service families.
We have a large group of amendments, not all of which were tabled by the Government. I propose to speak to the Government amendments in my opening remarks and address the other amendments in my closing remarks, rather than pre-empt them before the Members who tabled them have spoken. That should make for a more orderly debate. There is nothing more annoying than having one’s arguments addressed before one has even had a chance to make them to the House.
The Government amendments are largely technical. Government amendments 31 to 34 cover disclosure. They enable the Secretary of State, if necessary, to require a green deal provider to produce a further document containing information about the green deal plan as part of the confirmation process. This would be in addition to the energy performance certificate. Both documents would then have to be disclosed to future bill payers. These amendments therefore enable the Secretary of State to require, if necessary, additional information about the green deal plan to be given to future bill payers as part of the disclosure process. This small amendment responds to the concerns of stakeholders and the concerns that were expressed in Committee about consumer protection, particularly in the rented sector. We have moved to tighten that up.
On the transfer of payments, Government amendment 29 is a technical amendment that makes it clear on the face of the Bill that when collecting payments, energy companies are acting in an agent and trustee capacity for the green deal provider, which, in many cases, will not be the energy company itself. This is in line with the policy that I set out in Committee. Liability for green deal payments should sit on the balance sheet not of the energy companies, but of the green deal provider.
Without this clarification, there is a risk that payments received would be the property of the energy company until they were remitted to the green deal provider, which might enable an administrator to claim green deal payments in the event of energy company insolvency. Through the amendment we can minimise this risk and, as with all risk minimisation in this process, help to push down the cost of green deal finance.
On assessment and installation, I shall deal with a number of Government amendments relating to the role of professionals operating under the green deal, and consider them with amendment 26, tabled by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). Amendment 26 and Government amendment 30 relate to the role of professionals and the importance of protecting customers, while allowing the green deal to thrive. I apologise for breaking the rule that I said I would abide by in my opening comments, but this makes more sense, so I hope the hon. Lady will forgive me. I am grateful to her for raising the issue of cross-selling.
It is important to consider how and when green deals are likely to take place. Many will come about as a result of other activities, such as the installation of a new kitchen or boiler in a home. We do not wish to limit these trigger points. They will often be important opportunities to promote the green deal alongside other renovations or improvements that are happening in the home, which the householder may not have considered ahead of planning for a new bathroom, kitchen or other improvement.
Our market research has shown that customers would welcome and are therefore more likely to trust the involvement of local authorities, community groups and third sector organisations when thinking about entering into a green deal. This was a recurring theme in Committee, when we all agreed that the involvement of local authorities and community groups was vital to ensure the successful large-scale roll-out of the green deal. Such organisations may see participation in the green deal as a way of making people aware of other valuable services—for example, loft clearance for the elderly is an essential prerequisite for putting in insulation. Some voluntary or community groups might offer such a service in some areas at no cost or at a reduced cost.
A blanket ban could reduce the willingness of these organisations to play a full and positive role in the green deal. This could be especially detrimental to vulnerable groups such as the elderly, who are most likely to benefit from energy efficiency. It could also affect the ability of enthusiastic volunteers and community groups to encourage their neighbours by knocking on their door, sharing their enthusiasm and urging them to join in community projects. Members of a community or neighbourhood group are more likely to go round and speak to their neighbours individually, rather than e-mailing or writing to them. We are concerned that a blanket ban could be detrimental.
Our approach is therefore to be mindful of the points raised by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion. She is right to identify the need for strong consumer safeguards, but we believe the right way forward is to build on existing regulations that protect customers, and set out a clear enforceable framework within the green deal code of practice for such activities. This will be clearly set out in our consultation and we will seek further views on this important aspect then.
Does the Minister agree that there is a world of difference between a community group knocking on a door in order to clear a loft so that loft insulation can go ahead, and selling wallpaper, carpets and sofas, which was the example that the Minister gave in Committee? Would he come some way towards supporting my amendment, given that it clearly says that it is permissible to knock on people’s door if the aim is to reduce CO2, but not if the aim is to sell a sofa?
I am sympathetic to the thrust of the hon. Lady’s amendment, but it is not illegal to sell things door to door. There is already a code of practice for that, but we do not live in a country where it is illegal for people to sell products door to door. That is already a fact of life and we do not propose to alter it; however, we do think there should be a strong code of practice. However annoying and regressive such practices may be, trying to address them outside a code of practice—that is, through blanket legislation—could affect not just loft clearance services, but the ability to go door to door, just as we as politicians go door to door trying to convince people of our ideas.
The mobilisation of community groups across a range of issues is important. We are seeing the involvement of a number of new social enterprises and community partnerships, some of which the hon. Lady is encouraging in her constituency. Indeed, one of the most exciting things about the green deal is its potential to give rise to new third sector involvement in delivering energy efficiency services. I appreciate the intention behind her amendment 26, and although I cannot support it I hope she will engage with us on the consultation that we will undertake in the autumn on strengthening the code of practice. Her input will be valuable, as it has been for other elements of the Bill.
We believe that existing legislation and the green deal code of practice will protect consumers while encouraging a healthy promotion of the green deal. However, we are also clear that elements of the green deal process must be impartial if consumers are to trust the information with which they are provided. That is particularly true of the assessment.
On the code of practice, will the Minister ensure that all lessons are learned from the failure of the energy companies to act properly on the doorstep—a fact that they are beginning to recognise themselves by abandoning doorstep selling—and that none of the bad practices from which constituents have suffered in the doorstep selling of energy are transposed into the green deal?
Yes. I have a great deal of sympathy with that point. We believe strongly that high-pressure sales tactics, which cold callers sometimes use illegally, should be prevented. When I referred previously to cold calling by assessors, that is the kind of activity to which I was referring and is, I think, what the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion was thinking of too.
That is a good point. We certainly do not anticipate that assessors would be able to go door to door, give an assessment and then have people sign up there and then. There will be a cooling-off period. We considered in Committee whether an assessor could also be a representative of a commercial organisation or company. We came to the view that that could be possible, but that there would have to be a clear distinction between the roles they performed. An assessor would have to make their assessment on a uniform format and to the same standard right across the industry, so that it could be taken to other providers of green deal services. We would encourage all consumers to get a competitive quote before committing. If consumers wish to go with the first person who knocks on their door or the first person whom they invite in to make an assessment, it is obviously their right to do so. However, we are building in apparatus to ensure that that is not encouraged.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again; he is being extremely generous. Will he confirm whether he believes it would be possible under the legislation for an assessor, who is there to give impartial and independent advice about one’s energy consumption, also to be a representative of an energy company and to engage in the selling of energy to the consumer? It would be dangerous if the legislation permitted that.
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that an assessor would knock on someone’s door, undertake a green deal assessment and, at the same time, encourage them to switch to another tariff? [Interruption.] He is suggesting that they would switch hats and do that. I do not expect that to happen, not least because the assessment must be independent. However, there can be a degree of cross-selling, provided that the independent assessment is truly independent. However, I shall clarify that when we come to the technical detail of the Bill. I understand that what the hon. Gentleman describes is possible, but energy company practice would be covered by the regulations, such as the code of practice. We shall have an opportunity to look at the detail of what they can offer under the code of practice, but I would expect that type of activity to be strongly regulated.
However, it would not be impossible—indeed, it would not necessarily be a bad thing—for people to be able to switch to a better tariff at the same time as they were considering their energy usage. We are encouraging consumers to switch. Far too many families in this country are on the wrong tariff and do not take advantage of the cheaper tariffs that are available, often from their own supplier, particularly by switching to a direct debit. I would therefore not want to rule out the possibility of a consumer taking a green deal assessment and, at the same time, switching to a cheaper, more appropriate tariff. Indeed, that might seem quite sensible, but it will be covered by the code of best practice.
Although I agree that it should always be open to people to switch to a cheaper tariff, I am sure that the Minister would agree that energy advisers operate in an independent capacity and therefore engage with the consumer in a capacity of trust. Will he therefore ensure that if any energy adviser offers advice about switching tariffs, they will have to offer independent advice and will not be able to give it as a tied agent? Otherwise, there will be a perverse incentive for the energy companies to use a new doorstep sales technique, which will involve getting through the door as an independent adviser, switching hats—which will not always be obvious to the consumer—and then selling their own product.
I will need to consider that more carefully, because we accept that assessors can be part of commercial organisations. It is not a requirement of the green deal legislation—we went through this in detail in Committee—that they have to be totally impartial and that someone else should act as a salesman. For example, gas boilers have to be fitted to the high and rigorous standards set out in CORGI guidelines, and that work must be done independently. When we take our cars for a service and MOT, that must be done impartially and to a certain standard; yet at the same time, those doing that work are selling a service. Indeed, there are several examples of where it is quite possible for professional bodies to undertake professional services independently, transparently and to a uniform format, but where at the same time they have opportunities to sell.
Indeed, that is part of the attraction of the green deal. There is a quid pro quo at work: we are using the power of the market to scale-up the deployment of energy efficiency. Although we hope to go for an ambitious and large-scale eco-subsidy to work with the green deal, ultimately we are talking about a private sector proposition. We are creating a new market, but the investment that will drive take-up will come from the private sector, and obviously those making that investment will be attracted by more than just lagging. That is a good thing, because it will drive innovation and drive prices down as it increases competition, opening up energy services from the big six companies to a new array of retailers and, we hope, small and medium-sized enterprises and local groups. Competition will be good, but for competition there must be something for people to compete for. I hope that that reassures the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), but I will perhaps come back a little later to the point that he has raised.
Government amendment 30, which relates to the impartiality of green deal assessors, is a result of a commitment I made in Committee, given that so many Members were seeking reassurance on this point. It clearly sets out our intention to ensure the impartiality of the assessment process, and I urge the hon. Member for Brent North to look at it closely. We believe that it should be possible for assessors to be employed by a green deal provider, allowing for a more holistic service for consumers, but that should not interfere with the impartiality of the assessment process. The code of practice for assessors will therefore include robust requirements for green deal assessors to act in an impartial manner and declare to consumers any links that they have with green deal providers—or, indeed, energy companies. That is vital in order to retain consumer confidence in the information that they are being provided with.
The green deal seems to be a financial services product, and there will be similarities between selling that and, say, selling an ISA, rather than double glazing. This process will certainly involve selling a financial services product. Can my hon. Friend reassure me that, if the proverbial little old lady who lives alone is sold a product with a usurious interest rate, she will have recourse to the financial services ombudsman? Also, is there any intention for the Financial Services Authority to regulate the funding providers?
As this is defined as consumer finance, it will be the Office of Fair Trading, rather than the FSA, that will regulate this market. My hon. Friend makes a good point, however. It is our intention that there should be robust consumer protection, and we expect that the guidelines will be improved and refreshed to reflect the green deal. We will also expect the Office of Fair Trading to take a robust line from the very start, to ensure the integrity of the selling, and to ensure that any mis-selling is stamped out at the outset and full compensation is paid to any victims.
One of the problems with energy mis-selling was that it was a long time before many of the cases came to light. Does the Minister have any thoughts on ensuring that the standards that are to be imposed on those selling green energy are regularly inspected to ensure that any problems can be detected at an early stage, rather than finding a huge range of problems several years down the line, which is what happened following the doorstep mis-selling in the past?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will keep all elements of the green deal under close review. We are embarking on a really new, large-scale proposition; there is nothing quite like it anywhere in the world. We are pioneering a new model for energy saving, at scale, and as a result we will need continually to monitor all aspects of it, especially those relating to selling and mis-selling. We will need to ensure that the legislation that we have put on the statute book, the codes of practice that underpin it and the secondary legislation that we will introduce in due course before the launch of the green deal remain pertinent. If we identify any areas in which we think improvements can be made, we will not hesitate to make them.
Given the Minister’s response to the question from the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), it would be useful to know whether there have been any developments over the summer following our discussions on the golden rule. The distinction between the green deal and other financial products is that the cumulative cost of the rate of interest and the cost of the installation should not exceed the amount that people are currently paying on their energy bills. We discussed that in Committee, and it would be useful to know whether there have been any developments on that front.
There has not been any substantive development on that because we have not yet undertaken the consultation on the secondary legislation that will bring in the regulations. We have begun to hold discussions with stakeholders, and we will consult on the detail of the golden rule because it forms an important part of the measures, but there was no substantive movement over the recess.
The Office of Fair Trading will regulate the contracts. Has the Minister been in contact with his counterpart in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to check on the reduction in the number of officers who are able to enforce the measures? The process will put a considerable new responsibility on to the OFT.
I have not raised the matter in person, but my officials are working closely with a number of Departments—including, importantly, BIS—on that important element of the green deal proposition. We are satisfied that the OFT will have sufficient resource properly to monitor the green deal, and we will keep that under review as the green deal rolls out.
I will deal now with new clause 10 and the consequential amendment 36. The new clause has been tabled to replace the Opposition’s amendment on green deal apprenticeships, which we accepted in Committee—a great personal victory for the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger). As I said at the time, it is important that we take expert drafting advice on any amendment to a Bill, however well intentioned it might be. I reiterate that we fully support the creation of apprenticeships in green deal-related trades, and we will be happy to report to Parliament on our progress, as the hon. Lady requested. We believe that the new clause captures the spirit of her amendment; it simply clarifies a couple of technical matters regarding the exact nature of the new obligation. It requires the Secretary of State, before making the first framework regulations, to report to Parliament on the steps that he has taken to encourage green deal installation apprenticeships. I hope that that satisfies the hon. Lady.
Taken together, these are important measures in what will be the most ambitious home improvement programme since the second world war, and I hope that the whole House will support them. There are other amendments in the group that I have yet to address.
Getting back to the financing of the green deal, is the Minister aware that 1.9 million people are in arrears with their energy bills, and that that number is increasing by the day because of the increasing price of energy? Is he also aware that 5.5 million people are living in fuel poverty, and that that figure is also rising by the day because of the problems with the energy companies? Will not those people who have been unable to pay their bills have difficulty in gaining access to finance for the green deal?
Of course they will have access, although it might vary in individual cases—I cannot give a universal commitment. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise fuel poverty, and in the Adjournment debate this evening called by his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson) we will be able to debate the matter more specifically. Importantly, for the most fuel-poor there will be the energy company obligation. We fully recognise that a significant number of families will simply not be able to afford to pay for the green deal interventions through paid-for savings, because if they cannot afford to spend the money on heating in the first place, they will not capture the savings. We will therefore ensure that the very substantial energy company obligation will be directed towards meeting the needs of those vulnerable consumers.
The energy company obligation does not wholly focus on the people I mentioned, though. My worry is that the 1.9 million people in arrears and the 5.5 million people in fuel poverty—the poorest and most vulnerable, many of whom are elderly—will not be able to get finance under green deal. I am worried that that will create more poverty and do great harm to those who need help the most.
One or two, or small numbers, may fall through the net, but by and large we have to think about how the green deal will be implemented. Many of the families and individuals the hon. Gentleman is worried about will be captured by community roll-out and street-by-street roll-out of energy efficiency improvement schemes. We have the ECO so that we can offer whole communities the same service on an equal footing, regardless of their ability to pay. We will have to think about how to ensure fairness, because we want to include people living in isolated communities or those living in a relatively prosperous areas in a detached home, perhaps on their own, but I think the vast majority of the types of vulnerable consumer the hon. Gentleman is worried about will be captured by the whole-community approach that we anticipate will be taken up by many local authorities in street-by-street approaches. We need the ECO to be able to offer insulation and home improvements to whole streets, regardless of income, to ensure that we do these things at scale. I do not pretend that we have the perfect solution, but I believe that what we have is by far the best approach in comparison with anything tried before.
With that, I will finish. I will respond to the other amendments raised by hon. Members when I wind up the debate on this group.
I wish to speak to my amendment 28. I am delighted to hear the Minister say that he will respond to it later, which allows me to make my points before they are addressed.
I say at the outset that I think the green deal is a fantastic idea. As we went into the election campaign, I was very enthusiastic about it and I found a lot of support for the concept on the doorstep. I pay tribute to the ministerial team for bringing it forward so quickly and in such a concise manner. It is especially important because it provides for improved energy efficiency of our housing stock, which is vital to protect not only the environment, but residents. It will also have the benefit of reducing carbon emissions and hopefully, if it works correctly, insulate our residents and consumers against rising energy prices. If the “pay as you save” model works as envisioned, many more homes will be made much more energy efficient than could have been achieved under the previous schemes, whose limitations anyone who has served as an MP or a local councillor will have seen. This model is a great improvement.
Affordability is a massive issue for our constituents, as no doubt all of us have seen over the summer, with a large amount of correspondence in our postbags arising from various energy companies raising their prices. Citizens Advice has informed me and other Members that there has been a 78% increase in hits to its advice websites compared with a year ago. That clearly demonstrates how welcome is any measure that helps to bring down prices and encourage energy efficiency. It is in all our interests that the green deal works properly and effectively and is accessible to as many residents as possible on an equal basis.
There are some concerns—the Minister probably heard them in Committee—about the attractiveness of the green deal to certain sections of our constituents. The Great British Refurb campaign has said that although the green deal is attractive, mass demand will be contingent on a number of factors. I believe it surveyed about 2,000 people across the UK and found that whereas 56% of respondents saw the green deal as attractive, only 7% said that they would be prepared to take it up if a 6% interest rate applied. That is why my amendment focuses on interest rates.
We need to ensure that the interest rates are as low as possible to make the scheme as attractive as possible to as many people as possible. That is what amendment 28 would allow. The advantage of setting a single scheme interest rate is that it will stimulate demand from as many people as possible while forcing green deal providers to compete directly for customers based on the cost and quality of the energy efficiency measures and installation, rather than on the headline interest rate of the finance. I believe that it will also help to increase transparency and empower consumers who would find it much easier to compare different offers and the services provided by different companies.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the people most likely to be affected by high interest rates are the poorest, so having a level playing field will ensure that everyone gets the same deal rather than only those who can afford it getting the best deal?
I thank my hon. Friend. I am aware of his work in this area. He has said exactly what I am going on to say. It is important to ensure that the scheme is as attractive as possible to the poorest households, which, as he knows, are at the greatest risk of fuel poverty.
The alternative to a single scheme interest rate is risk-based pricing. In my view, green deal finance providers must not be able to price green deal finance packages based on the perceived default risk of the original occupier, given that the work done will stay with the property probably long after that household has moved on, sold up or moved to a different private rented property. It would be unfair and illogical to allow that to happen, given that there is no way of predicting the default risk of any future occupants. We cannot price with accuracy on that basis.
I perfectly understand the hon. Gentleman’s point that the debt will be tied to the property and that the rate should be based on an average, but does he not accept that there is a very real tension between the need to persuade householders to embark on the green deal in the first place, which will happen only if they can see financial gain for themselves over the period that they propose to occupy the property, and the potential financial gain to the average family in the future? His proposal may create tension between the ability to sell the property and fairness to subsequent occupiers.
That, of course, is exactly what the golden rule is designed to protect against. My concern is that we offer residents—people living in the properties now—an equal interest rate across the whole area. We need to avoid people in more affluent areas being encouraged to take up the green deal by a lower interest rate than is offered to people in poorer areas or those perceived to be a higher credit risk, particularly tenants. There is a risk that landlords might be put off the green deal if they perceive that the cost is based on the occupancy of a particular tenant.
I very much support the tenor of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks and I wonder whether he supports my new clause 8, which would serve to make the green investment bank a vehicle whereby we could ensure that a common and low interest rate—one that is subsidised—is applied?
I looked at the hon. Lady’s new clause and amendments, which are interesting. I look forward to hearing the debate and listening to the Minister’s response to them. I am sure that he will say something to reassure her.
I am concerned that landlords might be unwilling to take out a finance package if they perceive it as reducing the market value of their property. Under risk-based pricing, those with a poor credit rating—often people on low incomes, who are at the highest risk of being in fuel poverty—might find themselves, by accident rather than design, excluded from accessing a green deal finance package. Tenants in the private rented sector may be at a high risk of exclusion from green deal finance, because the underwriting process for mortgages is such that home owners are likely to have a better credit rating. The Minister rightly said that we should extend as much choice as possible to residents. We need therefore to ensure that as much choice is offered to tenants in the private rented sector as is offered to property owners, and that is, I am sure, what the green deal is intended to do.
I am very sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that there should be a non-discriminatory interest rate across green deal finance, but does he not accept that the golden rule itself is, to an extent, a measure of mitigation of what may well be universal high interest rates, set by green deal providers on the grounds that they are private companies providing finance? Does he accept that ensuring that there is a level playing field for finance in general does not resolve the problem that the golden rule may result in very few changes being made to a property as a result of high interest rates, and that additional measures such as green investment bank intervention may well be needed?
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point and will be interested to hear Ministers’ response to it. Although we understand how the green deal must operate, we all want to ensure that it is made as attractive as possible and that there is as much choice as possible. What worries me is that if we go down the route proposed, poorer households and, in particular, landlords may be put off.
With risk-based pricing, I fear that people with short tenancies may be charged a higher interest rate than owner-occupiers or tenants who have lived at the same address for a long time. Short-term tenants who default may be difficult to pursue and may already have a chequered credit-rating history. More important, however, is the fact that risk-based pricing is probably unnecessary. As others have pointed out, the golden rule should mean that no one, whatever their credit rating, ends up paying a higher energy bill than they would have without the green deal.
If risk-based pricing is permitted and finance providers try to charge households with poor credit ratings higher interest rates, the total cost of the measures could exceed the golden rule threshold, with the result that such households are likely to be refused green deal finance altogether. I think that that is the point that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) was making. Although it is possible that the golden rule will hold interest rates at a reasonably low level for most consumers, it will not do that for all of them. As the Minister said, other options are available, but while the energy company obligation may help the very poorest, some consumers could be trapped between the two. I should be interested to hear his response to that as well.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, we must design a system which, as well as being future-proof, can be drawn as widely as possible. I represent a great many people in private rented accommodation, particularly in Goole, and much of it is of poor quality, consisting of single-skinned brick terraced houses to which earlier schemes could not be applied because they had no cavity walls. I do not want private landlords to be deterred from encouraging tenants to take up the green deal because they fear that their properties will be devalued in the future as a result of the higher energy costs.
Many tenants have told me that they have huge problems with damp, meaning that there are rooms that they cannot use. Their houses are crying out for energy efficiency measures. I do not want them to be the ones who do not benefit from the green deal, while constituents living in leafier areas who happen to own their properties do benefit from it, and I know that the Government do not want that either.
That is entirely the right principle. The communities to which I have referred, many of whom I represent, risk fuel poverty because they live in the very worst properties with the very worst energy efficiency ratings.
I will not press my amendment to a vote because I think that the green deal is an exciting proposal, I strongly support it, and constituents to whom I have spoken find it very attractive. However, I shall be interested to hear what assurances Ministers can give me and people outside that the scheme will be designed to be as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, and that it will not exclude anyone. No matter how small their number—it may be just the odd one or two—there are people who are very much at risk, and they must be drawn into the scheme by some means.
My name is attached to five of the 15 new clauses and amendments in this group. New clause 8 would require the Secretary of State to report to Parliament within six months of the Bill’s becoming an Act with proposals on how the green investment bank could maximise take-up of the green deal.
Much more needs to be done to make the green deal as attractive and appealing as possible. Given that the energy companies have found it difficult to give away energy efficiency measures in the past, I fear that the “pay as you save” mechanism, as currently designed, will not be enough to drive the level of adoption, or the depth of the improvements that are needed for the delivery of huge emissions savings from our housing stock. In Committee we discussed possible drivers, including council tax or stamp duty rebates linked to the green deal, and reduced VAT rates for products bought under it. I support all those options, but I think that we should chiefly explore the idea of using the green investment bank to subsidise the interest rates, for all the reasons given by the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy).
The hon. Gentleman mentioned a survey. I have figures from the same survey. A key statistic that the hon. Gentleman did not mention was that about a third of home owners said that if the interest rate were set at 2% per annum, they would be “very” or “fairly” likely to take up the green deal. As the hon. Gentleman said, the figure fell to just 7% of home owners when an annual interest rate of 6% was suggested. It is clear that if the Government are still considering interest rates above 6%, they will face real challenges in attempting to drive sufficient take-up.
In Germany—which I realise operates a different scheme—an energy efficiency household loan programme offers publicly subsidised interest rates of 2.65%. That programme has achieved 100,000 residential retrofits in a year. The Government must achieve 145,000 every month if they are to fulfil the ambition that they set out at the beginning of the process, and they are intending to do that at market interest rates, which are much higher. I do not see how that will work.
It is not correct to compare the two schemes. The German scheme consists of a normal personal loan, secured in the normal way. It must be applied for through the banks, and in the case of a successful application the interest rate is subsidised. That is the nub of the programme, which I have discussed in Berlin with the German environment Minister. There is a great deal more to the green deal, which involves substantial subsidy not of the interest rate, but of the interventions themselves. We expect that most solid wall installations will attract a substantial element of subsidy, and that other interventions for fuel-poor households and more vulnerable customers will also be able to attract subsidies. Customers may pay a competitive interest rate, but they will be doing so on a significantly subsidised final bill, and I would have thought that it was much better to pay a competitive interest rate on a smaller bill than a subsidised interest rate on a higher bill.
This is a fundamentally different proposition, therefore. The German scheme simply involves subsidies of existing loans. What makes the green deal unique is that it is not a personal loan in the way the German scheme is. It will be secured against savings on future energy bills. It will not add to the personal debt of the individual who benefits from the installations, and it will remain with the home. There is also the golden rule. I apologise for making such a lengthy intervention, but it was important to put that on the record.
We discussed this matter in Committee, so I know that the Minister and I do not agree. I still do not think that the measures under the green deal will be significantly subsidised. I agree that we have the ECO pot of money for the fuel poor and hard-to-treat homes, but the figures that have been discussed in respect of the ECO are about £1 billion to £2 billion, which is a small amount given that we hope there will be mass take-up of the green deal. Most people who take up green deal provisions will therefore not feel that they are being significantly subsidised. I still do not agree with the Minister that this proposal will in its current form be attractive enough.
In the light of the Minister’s intervention, the hon. Lady might want to point out to him that the logical consequence of setting a market rate in respect of the green deal and the golden rule is that a significant proportion of those who cannot access the green deal at a market rate will be pushed into the ECO. That underlines the point made earlier about the purpose of the ECO: is it a fuel poverty device, or is it a device to mop up, as it were, those people who cannot afford the green deal at a market rate, which the Minister appears to think is the case? If it is the case, perhaps it ought to be clearly spelled out in our discussion.
I am extremely grateful for that helpful intervention. It focuses on some of the contradictions in respect of the purpose of the ECO, and I hope that in this debate we can make clear what exactly the ECO will be for, how big it is going to be, the extent to which it is intended to subsidise those who are in genuine fuel poverty, the extent to which it is intended to subsidise those who cannot afford market interest rates, and the extent to which it is for hard-to-heat homes. There is a lack of clarity, and I worry that ECO is being used as a kind of get-out-of-jail-free card, in that whenever there is a difficult question, the ECO tends to be the answer. There simply is not enough money in the ECO for it to be the answer, however. The financial community has much less appetite than has been suggested for providing affordable green deal finance, which is why the green investment bank must step in.
As Members may remember, on Second Reading the Secretary of State quoted Conor Hennebry, director of global capital markets at Deutsche Bank, as having said that
“‘the City is practically champing at the bit to finance the government’s green deal.’”—[Official Report, 10 May 2011; Vol. 527, c. 1059.]
That sounds very good, but the Secretary of State failed to add that Mr Hennebry went on to say:
“Financing the green deal is absolutely possible for us”—
“but whether the figures will stack up for you is a different matter.”
That is the crux of the issue: will the figures stack up in respect of rolling out this programme as widely as possible? I do not think they will. It is not at all clear that the figures will stack up for householders, unless there is Government support through either the green investment bank or the ECO. If the ECO is to be used, that is fine, but we must make it an awful lot larger and make its provisions a lot clearer.
No matter what interest rate is applied to the loans, it is vital that consumers have confidence that their rights will be protected if they take up a green deal offer, and I seek to strengthen those protections in amendments 26, 49 and 50. Amendment 26 would ensure that only products and services that reduce household emissions could be sold during green deal assessments and installation visits. Amendment 49 would ensure that consumer protections on the repayment of a green deal loan are extended to energy advice services or energy plans that are not specifically green deal plans. Amendment 50 would ensure that the Secretary of State can make regulations to ensure that quotes provided for green deal goods and services are easily comparable.
The Minister mentioned amendment 26 on what can and cannot be sold as green deal assessors go house to house. I do not propose a blanket ban. The amendment has changed since Committee. It is perfectly okay for somebody to knock on doors if they are talking about measures to reduce CO2 emissions, but it is not okay if they want to talk about wallpaper, for instance. I do not mention wallpaper in order to be frivolous. Rather, I wish to remind the Minister of what he said in Committee:
“If Marks and Spencer, or any other retailer, went into someone’s home to offer them a green deal, I am sure that it would also take the opportunity to market wallpaper, carpets and, if the walls are being lined, curtains and perhaps a sofa. This is a huge opportunity for home improvement, which will not be lost on responsible retailers. They will offer not just additional energy measures, but a whole package of other home improvement measures in a commercial atmosphere.”––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2011; c. 120.]
I am not at all relaxed about that, because I think it will lead to the pressurised mis-selling of products unrelated to energy efficiency, and that could completely undermine the green deal. There have already been similar problems in the small-scale renewables market, and they must be prevented in the context of the green deal. Sales in the home do not happen in a commercial atmosphere. Green deal assessors or providers are invited in because consumers are interested in energy efficiency. It is vital to ensure that commercial enterprises do not abuse the terms of those visits by pushing products that will not improve a home’s energy efficiency. I agree with the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), who pointed to the danger of some enterprises using the opportunity of being in someone’s home to try to persuade them to change to a different tariff as well.
The hon. Lady will remember that when the financial services regulations were introduced, banks had to declare up front whether they were providing information and advice to their customers in an independent capacity or as a tied agent for themselves. Does she agree that it is also important in terms of the green deal that people who have gained a householder’s trust and entered their home on the basis that they are providing impartial and independent advice do not, once inside the front door, switch hats and start offering advice as a tied agent of another service provider?
I completely agree. Trust is crucial if the green deal is to be successful. We want people to be talking about it, telling their friends and neighbours how great it is; we want there to be a real buzz and momentum behind it. If there are just a couple of cases of such mis-selling, the whole process will be undermined.
I also seek to extend the same consumer protections for the repayment of a green deal loan to energy advice services or energy plans that are not specifically green deal plans. If a householder decides after the initial green deal assessment to pay for the services up front without the need for a green deal loan, they ought to be eligible for the same kinds of protection they would receive if repaying the loan in a different way. If the clause in question is left in its current form, regulations regarding protection and redress will hang not on what a consumer buys, but on how they pay for it. That is perverse. If the consumer pays up front, the protections and regulations will not cover them. Only if they take the green deal loan will they have those protections. If people are not protected until they have signed a contract, how will that help consumers during the advice and contracting stage when they may not have decided to pay for green deal services yet, let alone how to pay for them? Also, who can the consumer complain to about pressurising sales tactics if they walk away before they have signed the contract? Will consumers choose the financial option that is best for them if they have to use green deal finance to get ongoing support from the advice line and redress scheme? I hope the Minister will address those questions in summing up.
My final concern in relation to this group of amendments is about the comparability of green deal quotes. It is vital that consumers are in a position to make an informed choice about which green deal is best for them, and that could be nigh impossible if the different quotes received are hard to compare. I should like the Minister to address this by ensuring that all green deal quotes are provided in a way that makes them very easy to compare with one another, to judge and to assess.
I have detained the House for some time so I shall conclude. My final amendment in this group would give consumers the right to choose which energy bill their green deal loan repayments would be applied to. In 78% of occupied British buildings, heating and hot water are provided by natural gas, so that is the fuel most likely to be reduced after a green deal makeover. It therefore seems logical for customers’ gas bills, where possible, to carry green deal loan repayments because if the golden rule is working, their gas bills will not become more expensive after the green deal repayments have been applied. It is there that the advantage of the green deal will be most apparent to householders.
If the repayments are added to electricity bills, those electricity bills are not likely to fall so much after a green deal makeover unless a home’s space and water are heated by electricity, but far fewer homes are heated by electricity than by gas. That means that in the vast majority of cases, green deal customers will potentially have lower gas bills but higher electricity bills. That makes it harder to see whether the golden rule is working and risks undermining the central pay-as-you-save principle, as well as eroding customers’ confidence in the value of the deal. I hope the Minister will therefore consider allowing consumers to choose which bill they want their green deal payment to be applied to so that their management of the green deal is as straightforward as possible.
I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who has made a very informed speech about exactly the points at the heart of the measures. I, too, want to address the green deal to dig out more about the golden rule and the energy company obligation. We all agree that it is right that energy efficiency improvements should be provided at no up-front cost. That is a good thing that we all support across the House and want to see implemented. As has been pointed out, however, the loans will be provided at commercial rates through the green deal and will attach to the property, not the householder, for up to 25 years.
The golden rule has been introduced to require that all green deal loans are less than the repayment cost resulting from the installation of the measures. The qualifying energy efficiency improvements will be determined through the energy performance certificate. This means that any savings will be estimated and based on standardised use. As a result, there are no guarantees that actual savings will match or better the estimated savings, as I pointed out to the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy). The Bill’s central premise is that consumers will save more on their energy bills than they will repay in loan costs and that that will be enough to drive consumer demand. However, the Bill provides little detail about how demand for the green deal will be driven beyond that basic finance mechanism other than through the introduction of the new ECO, which will underpin the deal and subsidise properties that require energy efficiency improvements but for which the golden rule would not be met.
It is estimated that the green deal will reach more than 40 million homes by 2020 and a further 12 million by 2030. That amounts to the retrofitting of 1.7 million homes a year—that is 4,800 a day—between 2012, when the green deal starts, and 2020. The Committee on Climate Change has estimated that, between 2012 and 2022, we would need to insulate 8.3 million lofts, 5.7 million cavity walls and more than 2 million solid walls to meet the UK’s carbon budget. The Government’s expected take-up of those measures, through the green deal and the extension of the carbon emissions reduction target, misses those requirements by 3.8 million lofts and 2.7 million cavity walls.
Although I support the aspiration behind the green deal, it is difficult to see how it can be achieved under the proposals. Indeed, the Committee on Climate Change’s third progress report to Parliament concluded that the Government proposals should help to strengthen incentives for the take-up of energy efficiency measures. However, there is a significant risk that they will not adequately address the range of financial and non-financial barriers. I do not want to talk the measures down because Members on both sides want them to work, but it is important that we are realistic about their likelihood of success.
The economies of energy efficiency retrofits at today’s energy prices simply are not attractive, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion has pointed out, because of the gap between projected returns based on current energy prices and the cost of borrowing—a gap that can be met only if substantive subsidies are applied. Recent analysis by E3G has highlighted that at today’s prices and with the commercial interest rates that the Government intend to apply to green deal financing, the golden rule cannot be met on a 25-year loan. The Government have quite rightly identified that the up-front costs of improvement and access to capital are significant barriers to the uptake of energy efficiency, but we should be clear that the green deal alone will not overcome them. Without intervention to limit the cost of borrowing, consumer demand for green deal programmes could be very low indeed.
Furthermore, access to capital is not a universal problem. For those who can afford them, savings, mortgage extensions and personal loans have long been readily available to provide up-front capital for energy efficiency investments, yet they have not been used on any scale, despite the fact that many people are able to procure those borrowings at 5% or 6%, let alone at the 11% that the Government are suggesting. Financing through the green deal simply does not stack up for the rational investor, and particularly for low and middle-income households.
Let me give an example. The annual energy bill for an average household is calculated at £1,029 a year. A good whole-house retrofit would be expected to save approximately 50% on the average energy bill—in this case, just over £500 a year. Solid wall insulation was identified by the Committee on Climate Change as the main energy efficiency measure that could usefully be financed by the green deal, but according to DECC’s own analysis, the capital cost of solid wall insulation ranges between £7,600 and £12,600. Let us take the cost of £12,600 and the maximum saving of £500 a year; in fact, DECC’s analysis estimates that solid wall insulation would save only £400 a year, but I give it the extra £100. Through the green deal, if we pay back £500 a year, through the savings on the energy bill for that average house, against the £12,600 loan over 25 years, we still do not pay back the full amount. That deal fails the golden rule.
An energy company obligation is being introduced to subsidise the difference, reducing up-front costs to the point that they are less than the energy savings. The Committee on Climate Change estimates that up to £17 billion of support will be required through the ECO to insulate 2.3 million solid walls by 2022, but the Government estimate that the total ECO support will be only £1 billion. The fact that the golden rule cannot be met even before the cost of finance is factored in is a matter of huge concern.
The Government have calculated that the green deal’s financial cost will be cheaper than a market personal loan, but they concede that it could mean rates of up to 11%. At today’s energy prices, to drive demand by meeting the green deal’s golden rule, 25-year loans would need to be offered at rates of 2% or less. E3G’s recently published analysis concluded that a £15,000 loan at 0% over 25 years for changes that delivered a 50% energy saving and lifetime savings of £2,461 could meet the golden rule in year 8, but that the same loan offered at just 2% would incur losses of £1,747 over that 25-year period, whereas a similar £15,000 loan for changes that delivered just a 35% energy saving would not break even at all even with interest at 0%.
At more commercial rates, the economies of the green deal are simply unmanageable. Households with access to capital—those with the option of using savings, mortgage extensions or personal loans—are not using it for this purpose and will not be incentivised to do so under the Bill. Low-income households could require up-front grants of 55% of the overall cost of making energy efficiency improvements, simply to reduce costs to a level where the remainder of the capital could be borrowed at commercial rates over 25 years without any negative impact on annual household outgoings. For many investments to break even over that 25-year period, they would need a significant subsidy via the ECO.
The ECO’s objective is to support low-income and vulnerable households and properties that need energy efficiency measures that do not meet the golden rule. The cost would be recovered from increases in consumer bills. That is a worryingly regressive means of funding energy efficiency measures, particularly given the likely subsidy that will be required to make the green deal viable. In my example, under the ECO, many households that do not benefit from energy efficiency improvements could subsidise those that do.
The ECO will be accompanied by the withdrawal of the Warm Front scheme by 2014. It will be replaced by the affordable warmth element of the ECO, the purpose of which is to provide up-front support to help households heat their homes affordably. In 2009-10, Warm Front delivered more than 21,000 cavity wall and 40,000 loft insulation measures, as well as 80,000 boiler replacements. I should be grateful if the Minister he clarified what proportion of the overall ECO will be targeted at the affordable warmth element and the criteria that he will apply to determine what low-income households will be eligible and how many retrofits the Government estimate will be carried out under the affordable warmth obligation.
It is helpful at this point to refer to the Treasury levy cap, which has not yet been mentioned. We will not know for some time whether the Office for National Statistics will determine that the ECO should be considered in the same vein as the warm homes discount, the feed-in tariff and the renewable obligation. If it does, the ECO could be even more constricted and less than the figures that my hon. Friend is talking about.
The shadow Minister is absolutely right that there has yet to be clarity on the issue, and clarity is vital. If we are to meet the targets that the Committee on Climate Change has set and the budgets, we must know that sufficient funds are available for the ECO to meet those targets. At present, my analysis and other analyses are quite clear that up to £22 billion is required, although an absolute cap of £1 billion might be provided under the ECO. As my hon. Friend suggests, that £1 billion might prove not to be a full £1 billion after all.
On new clause 9, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has estimated that the green deal will lead to employment in the sector increasing from 27,000 jobs currently to something approaching 250,000 jobs by 2020. That involves the creation of 27,875 jobs every year from the start of the green deal until 2020. Double the number of jobs that currently exist must be created every year. We heard earlier at Prime Minister’s Question Time about the latest unemployment figures and particularly the problems of youth unemployment. Of course, if those jobs were created, we would all welcome them, but there must be a doubt about these provisions.
In opposition, the Prime Minister called for a revolution in skills and training, so that the skills system responds far more effectively to the needs of individuals and businesses in a greener economy, but the recent green economy road map recognises the importance of that and refers to the introduction of new skills for a green economy and the grouping of sector skills councils to help businesses understand the changing skills requirement. It is crucial that that new grouping of sector skills councils supports the development of the additional 27,875 jobs every year between now and 2020. It would be of considerable interest to the House if the Minister explained what financial provision will be made to the sector skills councils to enable that sort of expansion—a tenfold expansion—to take place in the next nine years.
I should like to start by thanking the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) for tabling amendments 49 and 50 and my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Withington (Mr Leech) and for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) for tabling amendment 28.
Amendment 49 would require that any energy efficiency services provided or products sold by green deal participants, in addition to those paid for with green deal finance, should be subject to the green deal regulatory framework. It is important to note that the green deal is an innovative form of finance agreement that is attached to the meter and therefore passes between bill payers. I think that we all understand that. So it needs specific protections, which are not necessarily relevant to those who do not take out the green deal.
I should like to assure hon. Members that we intend to require customers to be made fully aware of the difference between offers that fall under the green deal scheme, with all its specific safeguards, and those that fall outside. However, many of the forms of mis-selling that rightly concern the House can be prosecuted already under existing general consumer protection legislation. We will not accept companies using green deal accreditation as cover for less appropriate goods and services.
Amendment 50 would ensure that recommendations and estimated costs and savings are clearly and transparently communicated to the consumer as part of the green deal plan, thus enabling customers to compare offers. I should like to reassure hon. Members that we intend to require green deal providers to set out clearly how the proposed savings and costs meet the golden rule principle, as enabled by the power in clauses 4 and 5. I urge hon. Members to look specifically at clause 5.
In addition, the Consumer Credit Act 1974 will apply to domestic green deal plans in full, bar a few essential amendments, thus ensuring robust consumer protection, and it already regulates the provision of information to consumers who enter into credit arrangements.
I wonder whether the Minister can clarify things a little further. On amendment 50 and comparability, is he saying that there are some guidelines somewhere that will ensure that many different green deal providers will be required to present the savings that are likely to accrue from investing in a green deal package in a similar way, so that they are genuinely comparable? On amendment 49, if a green deal assessor goes in and after a big assessment the householder decides not to take a green deal finance package but to pay up front, will they be unable to access things such as an advice line?