Clause 5 - Local targets for microgeneration

Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am ar 28 Chwefror 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Llafur, Bootle 4:00, 28 Chwefror 2006

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 26—Microgeneration: local authorities—

‘In the Sustainable Energy Act 2003 (c. 30), after section 4 insert—

“4AMicrogeneration: local authorities

(1)The Secretary of State shall, after consulting the Local Government Association, and not later than six months after the passing of this Act, publish a report on ways in which local authorities can promote microgeneration and energy efficiency.

(2)The report published pursuant to subsection (1) shall consider how different types of local authorities can promote microgeneration and energy efficiency.

(3)Every local authority in England and Wales shall, within 12 months of the publication of the report pursuant to this section consider that report and in particular how the measures included in it can assist the authority in the discharge of its functions or the development of policies relating to—

(a)reducing emissions of greenhouse gases; and

(b)alleviating fuel poverty; and

(c)promoting domestic energy efficiency.

(4)For the purposes of this section a local authority satisfies the requirements of subsection 3 by ensuring that the report is placed on the agenda of a meeting of the authority or of any committee thereof.

(5)Every local authority may repeat that consideration at such intervals as it may determine.

(6)Every local authority may draw up, and thereafter revise as it sees fit, a report on measures to promote microgeneration and energy efficiency.

(7)Every local authority may take such measures that it sees fit and are within its powers to promote microgeneration and energy efficiency.

(8)The Secretary of State may issue guidance to local authorities as to how they may discharge their functions pursuant to this section.

(9)In this section “local authority” means a district council, a borough council, a London borough council, a unitary authority or a county council.”.’.

New clause 28—Local authorities: duty to consider microgeneration —

‘(1)Every energy conservation authority in England and Wales shall, after having regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State, within 12 months of the passing of this Act consider how microgeneration can assist the authority in the discharge of its functions relating to—

(a)reducing emissions of greenhouse gases,

(b)alleviating fuel poverty, and

(c)promoting domestic energy efficiency.

(2)A local authority shall satisfy the requirements of subsection (1) by ensuring that the discharge of its functions relating to microgeneration is an item appearing on the agenda of any meeting of that authority or of any committee of that authority.

(3)Every such energy conservation authority may repeat that consideration at such intervals as it may determine.’.

Government new clause 34—Parish councils and community councils: powers in relation to local energy saving measures.—

‘(1)A parish council or community council may encourage or promote any of the following—

(a)microgeneration within their area;

(b)the use within their area of electricity generated, or heat produced, by microgeneration;

(c)efficiency in the use, by persons in their area, of electricity, heat, gas, fuel and other descriptions or sources of energy;

(d)reductions in the amounts of such energy, or sources of energy, used by persons in their area;

(e)production in their area of—

(i)biomass, or

(ii)any fuel derived from biomass;

(f)use in their area of, or of electricity generated, or heat produced, from biomass or any such fuel.

(2)The power conferred by subsection (1) includes, in particular, power—

(a)on application, to provide information about goods or services available within their area offered or provided otherwise than by a person mentioned in section 142(1) of the Local Government Act 1972 (c. 70) (provision of information, etc, relating to matters affecting local government), or

(b)to provide advice or assistance, for the purpose of encouraging or facilitating any of the matters mentioned in that subsection.

(3)Nothing in this section authorises a parish council or community council to provide any financial assistance by—

(a)making a grant or loan,(b)giving a guarantee or indemnity, or

(c)investing by acquiring share or loan capital.

(4)The power conferred by this section is exercisable by a council only to the extent that they do not (apart from this section or section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972 (c. 70) (power of local authorities to incur expenditure for certain purposes not otherwise authorised)) otherwise have the power.

(5)For the purposes of subsections (4) to (7B) of section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972 (c. 70)—

(a)any expenditure incurred by a parish council or community council under this section is to be treated as having been incurred under that section, and

(b)any purpose for which expenditure may be incurred under this section is to be treated as a purpose for which such a council are authorised by that section to incur expenditure.

(6)Subsection (5) applies to expenditure incurred by a parish council or community council under section 142 of the Local Government Act 1972 (c. 70) on information as to the services provided by them under this section, or otherwise relating to their functions under this section, as it applies to expenditure incurred under this section.

(7)The appropriate person may by order amend the list of matters mentioned in subsection (1) by—

(a)adding any other matter whose addition would in the opinion of the person making the order be likely to contribute to reduction of greenhouse gases in England and Wales;

(b)omitting any matter for the time being included in the list.

(8)In subsection (7), “the appropriate person” means—

(a)in relation to England, the Secretary of State, and

(b)in relation to Wales, the National Assembly for Wales.

(9)The power conferred by subsection (7) includes—

(a)power to make different provision for different cases, and

(b)power to make such supplemental or consequential provision (including provision modifying this section) and such transitional or saving provision as the person making the order thinks fit.

(10)The power of the Secretary of State to make an order under subsection (7) is exercisable by statutory instrument.

(11)No order under that subsection may be made by the Secretary of State unless a draft of the order has been—

(a)laid before Parliament, and

(b)approved by a resolution of each House.’.

Amendment (a) thereto, *leave out subsection 3(a).

Government amendment No. 13.

I have exercised the Chairman’s discretion to allow amendment (a) despite it being a starred amendment.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Llafur, Edinburgh North and Leith

I welcome you back to the Chair, Mr. Benton. I also remind Members of the declaration of interest that I made at the start of the first sitting.

Clause 5, and the related new clauses, deal with the issue of how local government can best contribute to encouraging the take-up of microgeneration. The clause as originally proposed put requirements on local authorities to set targets at local level, but I understand that that was an issue on which some difficulty has been expressed in certain quarters. I have therefore tabled new clause 26, which seeks to address the issue in a different way that may find more favour with those who saw difficulties with the original clause.

Members are aware that the importance of tackling climate change is now broadly accepted across the political parties and by the public. Although many local councils are doing good things, and some local councils are doing a lot of very good things in terms of local action to tackle climate change, the Energy Saving Trust reported in a survey earlier this month that 92 per cent. of local authorities were not prioritising climate change, which I find concerning.

It is disappointing, because local authorities are important in the field of energy efficiency but can also do a great deal in the field of microgeneration. Some Members will know that the DTI’s own report, undertaken with the Energy Saving Trust at the end of last year, suggested that, with the right policy framework, microgeneration could supply 40 per cent. of the total electricity needs of the country by 2050, and reduce domestic carbon dioxide emissions by 15 per cent. It is important, therefore, that the initiatives that are being put in place at national and UK level are matched by action on the part of local government.

I know that there is concern that it is wrong to be too prescriptive about how local government implements policy at local level to reflect national priorities, so the new clause would put on the local government agenda the issue of promoting microgeneration and energy efficiency. There is every reason to believe that that could be an extremely successful way to encourage local government to make promoting energy efficiency and mircogeneration a higher priority.

There is the experience of the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, which required local authorities to consider domestic energy efficiency. Local authorities all did that, and some three quarters took constructive action. The example of that particular legislation and its effect on local   government suggests that, if we do the same with microgeneration, it could have an impact on what local government is doing. We would encourage the 92 per cent. that are not doing as much as they could to follow the example of the 8 per cent.—from various political parties—that are taking a lead.

I know that the Minister, his Department and the Government have a great deal of sympathy with the issue. He has himself suggested various ways in which local authorities, and in particular local schools, could encourage take-up of microgeneration by practical examples in their own localities. I hope that, if the Minister is unable to accept the clause as drafted, he will be able to give a more positive indication of how matters can be taken forward as set out in my new clause.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I wholeheartedly support the hon. Gentleman’s new clause 26. If anything, I fear that it does not go far enough in having firm, clear measures that will tackle the problem of promoting microgeneration. There are a range of other matters, and we shall come to them during this sitting in discussing other amendments that I have tabled. There is a clear need to address the fact that, at local authority level, where most action needs to be taken, climate change is not at the top of the agenda. That is not just an assertion, or a feeling that I have or that others experience on the basis of anecdotal evidence.

The Energy Saving Trust took a poll of more than 300 local authorities recently throughout the UK, and it discovered that two thirds of local authorities perceived a lack of leadership from central Government as a significant obstacle to taking a strategic approach to climate change. More than 90 per cent. of those local government respondents said that other issues take higher priority in their council. There must be the inclusion of a duty at least to consider microgeneration as well as other initiatives at local authority level. New clause 26 goes some way to amending that deficiency. Mr. Benton, should I move on to new clause 28 or would you like me to speak to it separately?

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Llafur, Bootle

Yes, you shall speak to it. New clause 28 is grouped.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I support new clause 26, and I hope that the Minister will take the hon. Gentleman’s comments and suggestions on board.

New clause 28 supersedes new clause 22, which I tabled earlier. New clause 28 would require all local authorities to consider how microgeneration and energy efficiency can assist them in the discharge of their functions relating to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and alleviating fuel poverty. I ask colleagues to note carefully in the new clause the two words “can assist”. They are all important, as will become clear.

I shall put new clause 28 into context. The Government’s energy review pointed out that the Government are likely to undershoot their own CO2 target by 50 per cent. no less. That is serious. The   Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, whom I shadow, wrote in The Independent on 23 February that

“it is essential that we all, industry, public sector and individuals, play our part in dealing with climate change.”

I agree. The new clause is about just that, dealing with one vital part of the public sector—local authorities.

In a survey earlier this month, the Energy Saving Trust reported that 92 per cent. of local authorities are not prioritising climate change. There is a real problem, but we can deal with that today. The new clause would do so in a light touch way, but one that I hope would produce action. It would require local authorities to consider how microgeneration and energy efficiency can assist them in achieving their climate change objectives. As a legal minimum, it would mean that the issue were at least placed on the council’s agenda. That is all. It would go before the elected members, as the trust’s report recommended. The action that follows would then be at the discretion of the local authority. There are some who might say that this is too light a touch, and I can see their point. I have a great deal of sympathy with that comment, but first we must try the lighter touch approach with local authorities, rather than the heavy hand. There is strong evidence that such an approach can work.

What are the results? Let us look at the evidence. Based on the evidence of the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, introduced by the previous Conservative Government, which similarly used a light touch to encourage local authorities to consider domestic energy efficiency, the new clause would probably have the following effect. The handful of Mertons, Wokings and Croydons comply with it anyway, so the new clause would not make much difference to them. However, we are aiming at the rest. On the HECA model, 100 or so would respond with good results; maybe 10 or 20 would be outstanding. A further 200 would respond with reasonable or quite good results and 100 would respond with poor results. We might reasonably expect that up to 300 authorities would respond with proactive policies on microgeneration and energy efficiency to deal with climate change. I would like it to be 400, but 300 would be a good start. Omit the new clause and that will not happen: it is as simple as that.

There is a bit of a roadblock, which is our old friend, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. As with other clauses we will discuss, I have to report opposition from within the Government. Not, I hasten to add, from the Minister, who is a very reasonable fellow. From what I hear from many people, his attitude to the Bill is exemplary and as far as some non-governmental organisations are concerned, he has done a great deal. However, the ODPM says that the provisions would be a new burden on local authorities that would cost money, which the Government would have to provide.

I assure the Committee that my party is very conscious of spending pledges and so-called new burdens, and I am sorry that my colleague, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is not here to endorse that, but let us look at the new clause. It would require   councils to have as an agenda item for consideration how microgeneration and energy efficiency may help. Thus, the burden is that someone types out, “Agenda item, number whatever. Climate change, microgeneration and energy efficiency”. The councillors can then discuss the matter. I dare say that a civil servant somewhere in the great Whitehall machinery has worked out the notional cost of someone doing that, but I do not honestly think that it is a genuine cost in the real world. The burden is five minutes of someone’s time. It will not even take five minutes, if they are a speedy typist—well, faster than me. It is de minimis in the extreme and I advise the DTI to accept that.

Are there any other burdens? Again, I point out the wording of the new clause. It talks of councils considering energy efficiency and microgeneration to assist them in meeting their objectives on climate change and fuel poverty. The action they take is up to each council: it is discretionary. As a champion of localism, I am a great believer in local discretion. It is not a duty; councils can take action if they consider it will assist their plans. In plain everyday English, that is the opposite of a burden. It is, to use the wording of the new clause again, an assistance in achieving their objectives. Only the ODPM could see it otherwise.

I end, therefore, by asking the Minister to take up the matter with the ODPM. We will not press the issue today, but it could be a very different story on Report on the Floor of the House. The new clause is important: action by 300 local authorities should not be missed. It is a light touch mechanism and it really is the least we can do.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip 4:15, 28 Chwefror 2006

I am pleased to support new clauses 26 and 28. I hope that the Minister will listen to the tone and tenor of the debate and be able, if not to endorse the new clauses—everyone seems to be privy to the Minister’s views before I am on this occasion—at least to give a clear indication that he will respond sympathetically.

I have a lot of sympathy with what the Bill’s promoter said. As someone who has been down the path before, I know that he is walking on eggshells trying to encourage the Government to be as radical as possible while not alienating the few friends he has on this. As a result, he cannot vent his frustration as he might want to do about the slow pace at which concessions are wrung out of the Government. It is time for another one, and he deserves that, so the Minister should give him some aid and comfort.

I want to speak about new clause 28, to which the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) spoke. The cause is a good one and, as he said, he is applying a light touch in his proposals. Indeed, as he may have said, the touch may be too light, but it is about as radical as we can hope to get past the Government at the moment—and it may be too radical even for that.

I spent the earlier part of today responding in detail to the consultation document of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on a code of sustainable   homes. I hope that it will not be out of order to draw the Committee’s attention to what a timid document it is. That, too, is an example of a light touch and the avoidance of rules and regulations in favour of gaining consent and voluntary action. Consent and voluntary action are difficult to achieve from commercial builders who must make a profit and justify their operations to their shareholders. The reality is that neither the code of sustainable homes nor the light touch regulation that we are discussing are likely to be effective unless regulations are brought into effect, building is brought under control and there is some system for examining the way in which the legislation is implemented. In other words, it should be monitored and checked.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle for mentioning the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, which he said was introduced under a Conservative Government. It was in fact introduced by my Liberal Democrat colleague who is now Baroness Maddock in the other place. I recall that the Committee stage of that Bill was also fraught with difficulty in persuading the Government of the day to move forward. Baroness Maddock would certainly concede that the legislation could have been stronger and it would have been stronger but for the resistance of the Government of the day.

Now that time has moved on and climate change is being taken seriously, apparently by the Prime Minister and certainly by the Minister here today, I hope that the Government will show some real signs of determination to make progress. To do so, we need legislation, not just codes of practice, that places binding obligations on developers and builders about what they should do when they construct, alter or extend property. We need a system to ensure that when those regulations are in place they are monitored to ensure that they are implemented properly.

New clauses 26 and 28 are tentative moves in that direction and I hope strongly that the Minister will take the hint from the drift of the discussion today and concede that they should be added to the Bill.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

There is one small tail-end Charlie to this group of amendments. You kindly used your discretion, Mr. Benton, to add amendment (a) to the selection of amendments for discussion. It would amend new clause 34, which fulfils the Minister’s agreement to reintroduce my parish councils clause, and yet again I find myself thanking him for taking that on board. However, I have but one point to make.

ODPM officials, when drafting the clause, omitted to include grant or loan making as a power for parish councils, as in my original clause. In fact, their new clause, which I understood from the Minister was supposed to mirror my original clause but with more technical proficiency, specifically prevents parish councils from having that. I believe that officials have agreed to reconsider the provision. My amendment would provide for it, allowing parish councils the discretion to make small grants or loans, perhaps to help a local farmer or a community enterprise start a biomass scheme. We are talking only about small, discretionary projects. Of course, the power would be   subject to proper financial procedures, and with that procedural safeguard I hope that the amendment will be accepted.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

Mr. Benton, it is good to see you in the Chair again for what could be our last sitting. We shall have to wait and see.

I shall deal first with new clauses 26 and 28. They are similar and aim to push local authorities to consider how microgeneration can help them in the discharge of their functions in relation to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, alleviating fuel poverty and promoting energy efficiency. The key difference seems to be that new clause 26 would require the Secretary of State to publish a specific report on the ways in which local authorities could promote microgeneration and energy efficiency.

Yet again, I am given the opportunity to emphasise the important contribution that local councils can and do make to our climate change objectives and the social aspects of fuel poverty. Of course, we need to do more. We talk a great deal about Merton, Woking, Croydon—the Conservative spokesman talks more about Croydon than I do, modestly—and other exemplars that hon. Members may care to mention. I know that 100 councils have signed up to the Nottingham declaration on climate change, which commits participants to tackling climate change actively. That still leaves three quarters of local councils that may not be engaging in that agenda.

The Government—the Department of Trade and Industry, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and all Departments—want local authorities to tackle climate change. We want to understand what it is that has enabled our exemplars to take the actions that they have, and why it is that more local authorities have not followed. We must understand what local authorities are already doing and what best practice is available, and discuss with the Local Government Association the best way to take matters forward. We intend to do that.

We shall say more about that in the new climate change programme. It would be premature to decide whether and how to legislate on the matter, particularly when other avenues, such as planning guidance—I shall say more about that later—are available and can be used to promote particular action. Given the approach that I am suggesting, involving discussion with the Local Government Association and consideration of powers under planning, new clauses 26 and 28 are very prescriptive and have a certain element—I am not sure whether the pun is intended—of micro-management about them.

It is not desirable for the Government to specify how local authorities take matters forward through the use of agendas for meetings and the rest. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle, despite being an advocate of the new localism, seems to be an advocate of the new centralism, specifying how councils should conduct their business. Our approach is to give local authorities flexibility in the delivery of their responsibilities. We also need to be careful about   imposing on local authorities extra burdens that we do not have the ability to finance. Even though I am sympathetic to the aims of the new clauses—and I am, as I want more Mertons, Wokings and Croydons—I am not convinced that they represent the best way to engage local authorities. Therefore, given the approach that I outlined, I oppose the inclusion of the new clauses in the Bill.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I hear what the Minister is saying about the prescriptive nature of putting an item on the agenda, but how does his laissez-faire approach, which would not disgrace a Victorian entrepreneur, chime with the statement by the Prime Minister today to the “Stop climate chaos” group, in which he stated that the cost of inaction was clear, and that every week there were new and authoritative scientific studies warning that without urgent action the present situation may be just a taste of what the future holds? Urgent action; the cost of inaction is clear—does that chime with what the Minister has just said?

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

The hon. Gentleman represents a party that is somewhat of a Johnny-come-lately to the climate change agenda, and we welcome him to the club. However, this Government do not need to apologise for their record on climate change. Indeed, we have led the world on this important issue in a variety of ways, not least through our broad support for the Bill. We are very much in favour of further action.

The hon. Gentleman and the party of Joseph Chamberlain and the rest should recognise that we must be careful about being over-prescriptive with local government. If central Government had been over-prescriptive, we may not have had the interesting developments in Woking or the Merton experiment, let alone the initiative in my borough of Croydon. I gently advise Conservative Members, as they search for a new political raison d’être, not to be too top-down or nanny state-ish. Some advice from new Labour is to avoid the nanny state mentality and not be over-prescriptive in telling elected local authorities exactly how they should do things and what they should have on their agendas. That is my point.

I want local authorities to embrace microgeneration and climate change strategies, and to come forward with all kinds of ideas that the men and women in Whitehall, who do not always know best, may not themselves have thought of. That is just a little advice. We need to have this important dialogue. [Interruption.] I do not view my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith as one of the grey men of Whitehall—there are too many of us already.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Llafur, Edinburgh North and Leith

I shall do my best to reassure the Minister. Given the line that he is taking, which does not come as a complete surprise to me, I wonder whether he could give some thought today or at a later stage as to what might be the best way to incentivise   local authorities to follow best practice, so that the good examples that we have heard about will be taken up much more widely.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

One idea might be for those of us in this Committee and in the Chamber who advocate a municipal role for microgeneration to challenge our local authorities. I do not need to do that in Croydon. I do not know whether all the members of the Committee represent authorities that I have described as exemplars, but, if they do not, they should leave the Committee Room now and challenge their municipality on these issues. That is one way to do it.

Another way is to look at the planning issues that I have mentioned, and which I shall touch on later in another context. This debate is not about discouraging local authorities—far from it—but about the best way of doing things. Even in this new era of the Conservative party, I question whether a top-down approach is necessarily the right one.

Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Ceidwadwyr, Tunbridge Wells

My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle makes a more subtle point than the Minister gives him credit for. He drew a distinction between the Minister’s practice—in fact, he was rather generous to him—and that of the ODPM. Localism and decentralisation are commendable, but is the culture in the ODPM not incredibly centralising, and do not many of the targets and strictures to which local government is subject emanate from that Department, if not his own?

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

I do not quite recognise that. When I discuss these matters with the Minister for Housing and Planning, as I have in the past few days, we are at one in trying to develop the right approach. I think that the ODPM in particular, conscious of concerns about council tax burdens, is at pains not to suggest any approaches that could be seen as new burdens with financial implications. That is one of the balances that we need to get right.

Hon. Members will recall that, during the second sitting of the Committee, we debated the role that might be played by parish councils in helping to promote local energy saving measures, and I drew attention to the wide variation in size and activities of parish and town councils, acknowledging that the larger ones might well wish to play a part in energy saving in their locality. That is an important theme, given that many of the energy projects that we need to develop are often quite small scale and are very much at the community and parish level.

I explained to the Committee that although the Government perceived that there could be usefulness in a discretionary power of the sort that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle proposed, there was uncertainty about the scope of the existing general   power under section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972. I promised to consider those matters further and table a Government amendment. New clause 34 essentially clarifies both what may reasonably be expected from parish councils should they decide to use the discretionary power, and their power under section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972.

Recognising the resources that are available to parish councils, the provision demonstrates ways in which they might encourage or promote local energy saving measures such as microgeneration, energy efficiency and general reductions in energy consumption. It allows them to promote production of biomass or fuel derived from it or from waste in their local area—something that is obviously applicable to rural areas in particular. It also allows for the list of measures in which parish councils may want to become involved to be amended as other energy saving initiatives become available.

One of the most useful roles that a parish council can play is to provide advice and information for its residents. Often, parish councils are the first port of call regarding local services and facilities. The Government see parishes as key to neighbourhood agendas and believe that more can be done at the parish level. Providing advice and assistance on local energy saving measures fits in well with those aims. Parish councils will also be able to work together on such measures, as well as with principal authorities and other bodies, to achieve successes locally in energy saving.

The power enables local councils to assist in energy saving measures in their locality, but the Government are mindful that there should not be a new burden on parish councils or—through the parish precept on council tax—on their electors. Any expenditure under the power will therefore be treated as having been incurred under section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972.

The fact that the measure is a power rather than a duty does not necessarily prevent it from being a new burden. If we give powers to local authorities, it is generally because we expect them to be used, and the Government have to provide the necessary funding to avoid the use of the powers becoming a pressure on council tax. In the present case, although parish councils would not be obliged to encourage or promote energy saving measures, there might be an expectation that they use the discretionary power. Indeed, I look forward to the first story about controversy concerning a micro-wind turbine in Ambridge, which I am sure will come sooner or later.

Parish councils are not being encouraged to incur additional costs as a result of the clause, which clarifies their existing powers. Nevertheless, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle for raising the issue, and I hope that he is fairly satisfied by the approach that I have outlined.

It may be useful if I close my remarks by addressing the amendment that you, Mr. Benton, have today allowed us to consider—proposed amendment (a) to new clause 34. The question whether parish councils can make grants is quite complex. Under section 137 of   the Local Government Act 1972, parish councils can in certain circumstances incur such spending. We need to consider that expenditure and the links that it has to the amendment, as well as the terms of grants, their recipients and how such expenditure is monitored.

There are plenty of other ways in which parish councils can help in relation to energy saving, rather than by making a grant. However, we are not necessarily closing the door on the issue of grant payments by parish councils and would be prepared to consider it further. If the hon. Gentleman can give evidence for the need for such a power, perhaps we could return to the matter on Report.

In summary, we oppose new clauses 26 and 28, given the alternative approach I have suggested. I shall move new clause 34 later, but I oppose amendment (a) for the reasons I have just evidenced. I also propose to move amendment No. 13, which is a consequential amendment that will be required if clause 5 does not remain in the Bill.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:30, 28 Chwefror 2006

I am afraid that that is a rather disappointing start to the Committee’s proceedings this afternoon. I am grateful to the Minister for the glimmer of hope on my small, tail-end Charlie amendment, but on the substantive issue of trying to incentivise and generate a degree of momentum locally for microgeneration, I find it difficult to understand how he can be so conservative regarding such a light-touch measure.

I cannot believe that the Minister could have marshalled those arguments; I can only believe that there are forces at play in the Whitehall machinery that I do not begin to fathom precluding him from taking the obvious stand, which the Prime Minister’s rhetoric indicated the Government should take. I cannot find any correlation between the Prime Minister’s rhetoric in the 1,300 words he expended at the “Stop climate chaos” rally and the mealy response given to a very timid measure this afternoon.

On the question whether we are over-egging the case, I point the Minister to the CSR Magazine spring edition, which features an article on the chief executive of Gazeley, Europe’s leading warehouse developer, which I visited yesterday to see a large site that it has recently constructed for Woolworths. Those are two very large companies. Hon. Members may remember my mentioning Gazeley previously; it is owned by Wal-Mart, which is certainly not a dewy-eyed not-for-profit organisation. In that magazine, the chief executive was asked the following questions:

“do you feel that Government, as a partner to UK business, is actually providing organisations such as yourselves with the necessary regulatory and fiscal frameworks, the appropriate advice, support, direction and advocacy? Or is the corporate sector being left to fill the leadership void?”

He responded:

“Government hasn’t filled that void and business is being left to fill it. What I really do feel is that Government has to change the name of the game. My own view is that there has to be a cohesive strategy, ideally cross-political, to deal with these huge issues”.

There are financial incentives and disincentives to reward certain behaviour and discourage other behaviour, so that we can move the agenda along.

The Minister and his colleagues are simply out of touch with best practice in business—of developers or house builders—if they think that there is huge resistance to even modest attempts at reform. We shall never ever get beyond merely tinkering with new technologies such as microgeneration if there is no clear leadership from the Government. If they are not even prepared to put it on the agenda, how will we ever get beyond the wonderful islands of excellence, such as in the Minister’s own constituency of Croydon, to other authorities that really are dragging their feet? We do not want exemplars around the country but a uniform roll-out right across the United Kingdom. I am very disappointed with the Minister’s response.

Question put and negatived.

Clause 5 disagreed to.