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Energy Bill

Volume 718: debated on Wednesday 7 April 2010

Order of Commitment Discharged (and remaining stages)

Moved By

That the order of 23 March be discharged, and that the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Motion agreed.

House in Committee.

Clauses 1 to 9 agreed.

Clause 10 : Schemes for reducing fuel poverty: supplementary

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 10, page 9, line 36, leave out “the Secretary of State may determine,” and insert “may be specified in the scheme, the Secretary of State may determine that”

I shall speak also to the other eight amendments in this group. I acknowledge the consensual way in which agreement has been reached between the various parties concerned on the way forward for the Bill. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for withdrawing his amendments; it is much appreciated.

In its eighth report in this parliamentary Session, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recommended several changes be made to the Energy Bill. It highlighted two areas in Part 2 where the level of parliamentary scrutiny could be increased: Clause 10(6) in relation to the power to disapply or apply with modification any requirement of a scheme to reduce fuel poverty; and Clause 15(2) in relation to changes to the fuel poverty definition. Amendments 1 to 8 address these areas.

The committee expressed concern about the breadth of the powers in Clause 10(6), which allow the Secretary of State to disapply or modify any requirement of a scheme. In response to this, Amendments 1 and 2 will constrain the circumstances under which this power may be used. This is done by requiring the circumstances in which the Secretary of State can use the power in Clause 10(6) to be detailed in the scheme regulations made under Clause 9. Regulations made under Clause 9 are subject to the affirmative procedure. Through Amendment 3, the Secretary of State would also be required to inform Parliament of any changes made under the power in Clause 10(6). This will be done by laying a memorandum before Parliament detailing any such modifications.

The committee also recommended that any regulations that seek to redefine or determine the scope of fuel poverty or its extent for the purposes of the Bill should be subject to the affirmative procedure. In order to meet this recommendation, we propose several amendments. First, where the existing Bill points back to the definition of fuel poverty in the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, Amendments 5 and 6 propose replicating the definition in that Act in this Energy Bill. Amendments 7 and 8 then make any regulations that seek to change the definition of fuel poverty or its extent in this part of the Bill subject to the affirmative procedure, as recommended by the committee. Amendment 4 ensures that any change to the definition of fuel poverty or its extent are subject to consultation in the same way that the schemes for reducing fuel poverty are subject to consultation.

The committee also recommended a change to Part 4 of the Bill, which covers general provisions. Amendment 9 is tabled to remove the discretion contained within Clause 31(4) that the Secretary of State has in certain cases to choose the parliamentary procedure to which a statutory instrument is subject. We now consider that we no longer require this discretion and therefore we are happy to accept the committee’s recommendation in full.

We have accepted and taken action on all the recommendations made by the committee. The amendments are a valuable addition to the Bill. They increase the level of parliamentary scrutiny and I hope that the House will support them. I beg to move.

My Lords, the Minister has explained the amendments extremely clearly and I have no quarrel with them. I thank him for the letter that he wrote to me on 1 April following the discussion that we had at Second Reading about why there is a difference between the data-sharing arrangements and powers that will apply to the rebate schemes under this Bill and those that otherwise applied to the carbon emissions targets scheme under other legislation.

The Minister has made a convincing case. My only anxiety is that, although the Information Commissioner’s Office appears to have been satisfied by the arrangements that the Government now have, we are not to be allowed to see the correspondence that passed between the department and the Information Commissioner’s Office. The noble Lord has said that it is privileged communication; someone may like at some stage to make a freedom of information appeal to see whether or not that claim would hold. In the mean time, I express my thanks for a full and detailed explanation of a point that I raised at Second Reading.

My Lords, as I said at Second Reading, we welcome the Bill as far as it goes. Most of what is in it is long overdue and would not have caused us too much trouble even if we were to have had sufficient time to discuss it in detail in Committee. The Minister has been most careful to make sure that we have had as much help as we needed to bring us to where we are today, while the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has kindly removed the amendments that he had put down. We would have preferred there to be more in the Bill. I have not experienced wash-up before; I do not think that many of us are finding it very pleasant. We shall support the amendments. The Delegated Powers Committee made its recommendations and the Minister’s amendments, which he has grouped together, support them. I thank him for his courtesy.

My Lords, we remain supportive of the Bill and of the amendments, particularly Amendment 3. Not having to prise out the affirmative procedure from the Government is certainly a pleasant change.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. A copy of my letter to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has been placed in the Library. I understand his point about confidentiality of information between the department and the ICO. One can think of some circumstances where the information in that correspondence would be the subject of an argument as to whether it should be released. That may be one of the reasons why, in certain circumstances, it should remain confidential. Whether that is so, the commissioner will at some point rule. I would be interested if the noble Lord were to pursue this matter through a freedom of information request; we shall have to see how he gets on. I am grateful.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Amendments 2 and 3

Moved by

2: Clause 10, page 9, line 40, after “and” insert “the support scheme”

3: Clause 10, page 9, line 41, at end insert—

“(7) If the Secretary of State makes, amends, or revokes, a determination in accordance with provision included in a support scheme by virtue of subsection (6), the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a memorandum of the determination, amendment, or revocation.”

Amendments 2 and 3 agreed.

Clause 10, as amended, agreed.

Clauses 11 to 13 agreed.

Clause 14 : Regulations under Part 2: procedure etc

Amendment 4

Moved by

4: Clause 14, page 11, line 15, leave out “or 11” and insert “, 11 or 15”

Amendment 4 agreed.

Clause 14, as amended, agreed.

Clause 15 : Schemes for reducing fuel poverty: interpretation

Amendments 5 and 6

Moved by

5: Clause 15, page 12, line 9, leave out from second “person” to “, and” in line 12 and insert “is a member of a household living on a lower income in a home which cannot be kept warm at reasonable cost”

6: Clause 15, page 12, line 16, leave out subsections (3) and (4) and insert—

“(3) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision about—

(a) what is to be regarded as living in fuel poverty for the purposes of this Part;(b) what is to be regarded as a reduction in the extent to which a person is living in fuel poverty for the purposes of this Part.(4) Provision made under subsection (3) may, in particular—

(a) specify what is to be regarded for the purposes of subsection (2)(a) as a lower income, or a reasonable cost, or the circumstances in which a home is to be regarded for those purposes as being warm;(b) amend this section.”

Amendments 5 and 6 agreed.

Clause 15, as amended, agreed.

Clauses 16 to 30 agreed.

Clause 31 : Orders and regulations

Amendments 7 to 9

Moved by

7: Clause 31, page 25, line 20, after “9” insert “or 15(3)”

8: Clause 31, page 25, line 32, leave out “or 15(4)”

9: Clause 31, page 25, line 34, leave out from “is” to “subject” in line 35

Amendments 7 to 9 agreed.

Clause 31, as amended, agreed.

Clauses 32 to 39 agreed.

Schedule agreed.

House resumed.

Bill reported with amendments. Report and Third Reading agreed without debate. Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.