New Clause 14 - Parish councils: power to set up local energy schemes

Part of Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 9 Chwefror 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry 2:30, 9 Chwefror 2006

I do not think it stops rain. I might develop a joke about parish heat pump politics, but I will leave it at that.

I was interested in the range of possibilities under the community energy heading in which parish councils could get involved, and particularly intrigued by the idea of inter-parish energy forums. Perhaps on Report, an hon. Member will table an amendment, which we may not accept, that people can only walk or ride their bicycles to the inter-parish energy forums. We need consistency in what we are doing.

We should not lose sight of the fact that parish and town councils vary enormously in size, activities and circumstances. The main source of a parish council’s income is its precept on the district or unitary council. They are not, however, subject to the constraints on principal authorities through financial measures such as capping. The powers of well-being in the Local Government Act 2000 do not apply to them.

Parish councils could rely on the powers they have under section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972 to set up local energy schemes, which is a general power to spend where expenditure is in the interests of, and will bring direct benefit to, the area. The power is limited to spending locally and there are some legitimate doubts over the scope of it. In principle, we think the power that the new clause would introduce could be useful, and would enable parish councils to take part in setting up local energy schemes.

We have some concerns about the scope of the limited power that local councils have in that respect and we need to explore the issues further. I undertake to consider them in greater depth with the intention of tabling a Government clause at a later stage. In the light of my comments, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be persuaded to ask leave to withdraw the new clause.

New clause 15 proposes an amendment to the Local Government Act 2000 to clarify the fact that the powers given to principal authorities to promote or improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of their areas also enable them to take action to alleviate climate change. The intention is well founded; if we are to succeed in reducing the emission of the harmful greenhouse gases that are causing climate   change, we need to take action at all levels, not just in the international arena or in nation states, but at the most local of levels.

Local authorities are taking action. Bracknell Forest borough council is a good example; it has used well-being powers to provide a financial guarantee, enabling the go-ahead for the use of sustainable energy in its town centre regeneration. I am advised that a number of London boroughs have used the powers to work with an organisation called Smart Moves Ltd—it sounds like it might be advising the Conservative party at the moment, but I do not know whether it extends that far—in the setting up of CityCarClub, which helps to reduce car use, thereby reducing pollution, congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. Local authorities are therefore already using well-being powers to tackle climate change, which is why I believe the proposed clarification to be unnecessary. The new clause may also cast doubt on the breadth of the power to promote or improve well-being, by signalling that it is not as wide as indicated by the statutory guidance. We believe that it is likely to cause more confusion than clarity.

The Government were required by the Local Government Act 2000 to produce statutory guidance on the exercise of the well-being powers, which is useful in this debate. The guidance followed consultation with local government representatives, and was launched in March 2001. Before exercising the powers, principal authorities must have regard to the statutory guidance. Paragraph 6 sets out a broad range of the powers and states:

“Authorities will also wish to consider how the new power can help them to contribute locally to shared national priorities, such as action to combat climate change.”