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Energy: Efficiency

Volume 700: debated on Wednesday 26 March 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Why they propose to repeal the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, which requires local authorities to report annually on progress towards improving energy efficiency in all homes in their area by 30 per cent over 15 years.

My Lords, a public consultation on a review of the Home Energy Conservation Act, as implemented in England, ended in January. The review had concluded that, although the Act had raised the profile of energy efficiency, success had been inconsistent. Four options for the future of the legislation were identified, including repeal. Officials are currently analysing the consultation responses, and a summary will be published as soon as possible. Only once that is complete will the Government be in a position to decide on the next steps.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. Does he agree that the inconsistency in those responses is due in part to Defra’s not following up with local authorities their statutory obligation to employ someone responsible for energy efficiency and to report annually? Does he agree that when one council—I believe it is Southend-on-Sea—has not reported in all the 11 years that the Act has been in force, it is due to a problem of enforcement by Defra, rather than having to repeal this very important Act?

My Lords, the easy thing to do these days is to blame Defra for things, and I am going to plead not guilty on this one. The legislation had quite a narrow remit but that—as at least one Member of this House will testify—is the only way to get a Private Member’s Bill through the other place, by keeping it fairly narrow. Over a period of time, however, other legislation has been passed and other action taken to involve local government in energy efficiency programmes. That is why it was right to review this legislation.

My Lords, the programme is none the less way behind its target of a 30 per cent improvement in home energy efficiency in the 15 years leading up to 2010; the figure currently stands at 20 per cent. What measures has the Minister in mind to put the programme back on track? I regret to ask whether it is another casualty of Defra’s budget crisis.

Not guilty, my Lords—honestly. This is a purely local authority matter. Local authorities employ the people to do this. It was their responsibility to check the energy efficiency of all domestic properties within the whole of the authority and not just the properties they owned. Since then, we have had Warm Front and the other energy efficiency programmes which have come along in the past 15 years. Notwithstanding the fact that this House is currently considering the Climate Change Bill, which will involve local authorities in other issues, that legislation had no standard methodology so that one authority could not be compared with another. Nothing was written into that legislation on how to do the calculations, and it was right to review it. We have not made a decision; the responses are being analysed.

My Lords, the results of the pilot home information packs have now been published, and they show that less than a third of households intend to implement even one of the energy-saving measures recommended in the packs. What will the Government do to ensure that these rather expensive documents provide some practical value for householders?

My Lords, I have no intention of answering that question. As the Minister who introduced the home information packs legislation in this House—I blew hot and cold as it went through this House—I am keeping my mouth shut on that one. Naturally, however, I will refer the question to the Department for Communities and Local Government.

My Lords, the 1995 Act none the less required annual reports and they were not made on a massive scale. If it is not the Government’s job to see that local authorities keep to the law, whose job is it?

My Lords, it is a matter for local authorities and it is their professional duty. I do not know whether it was specific. The reporting requirements were considered onerous, but removing them would not prevent the need for local authorities to have a strategy. That is one of the options in the current review. It has probably been overtaken; I do not know. It may be that the Act will be retained.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the sponsor of the said Act when I was in another place. Does the Minister recognise that there was a problem with reporting because the Government did not have a standard reporting method? If they had had one, reporting would have been much easier for local authorities. Admittedly, computers and so on have now improved and the situation is probably better. Does the Minister also recognise that the Act spawned HECA officers, the champions in their local authorities for this area of energy efficiency? They have produced tremendous results since the Act came into operation, often despite lack of support from government. I hope that we do not lose them. They are an important part of what the Act has achieved.

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness. This was not the most popular issue of the day in 1995, but time has caught up with it and it is now a central policy plank for all the parties. The issue is not HECA officers being made redundant but other matters. As I say, there are other programmes now—the energy efficient, the carbon reduction programme, the Warm Front. There is a huge range of programmes on the energy efficiency of dwellings and other buildings. Those were not remotely on the agenda in 1995.

My Lords, further to that answer, while I accept that new systems and projects have come into being, can the Minister give us any information on why there was no reporting before they came into being? My understanding is that quite a few of those are recent initiatives.

My Lords, there was no reporting because of a failure of local government. That would be the answer to that.