All 1 Nadia Whittome contributions to the Energy Act 2023

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Tue 5th Sep 2023

Energy Bill [Lords]

Nadia Whittome Excerpts
George Eustice Portrait George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I support Government new clause 63 and welcome their bringing it forward. I had tabled amendment 8 and new clauses 40 and 50, each of which in different ways sought to give the Government the powers they needed to extend the existing renewable transport fuel obligation so that it might cover domestic heating fuels for off-grid properties. Government new clause 63 achieves that, creating the same power by replicating section 124 of the Energy Act 2004, and therefore I will not press my amendment or new clauses to a Division. I thank the Minister for the work he has put in on this; we have discussed it many times and I know he has worked hard to get a cross-Government consensus.

I also welcome the Minister’s commitment to a consultation. Some Members have questioned the timing of it, but we all have to be realistic about how long these things can take and the fact that a consultation needs to be done properly, and we should therefore accept in good faith the undertaking he has given at the Dispatch Box today. So I support that.

I want to address a point raised earlier by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) and reassure him that I did not hang him out to dry. I am very conscious of the fact that Northern Ireland has 400,000 homes that are off the gas grid, and when discussing the Government new clause proposal last week, I highlighted the fact that Northern Ireland was a special case. The Minister has given an undertaking that conversations are continuing with officials in Northern Ireland, and I hope we can find a resolution to that issue.

My final point is not really a matter for today’s Bill: the associated issue of the proposed ban on replacement boilers for off-grid homes currently proposed for 2026. I know that the Government will be looking at that—it is a consequential consideration following an amendment they have put forward today—and I look forward to hearing what Ministers will have to say about it in due course.

Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome (Nottingham East) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

I rise to speak in support of new clause 35. My amendment is about funding for decarbonising homes and I hope Members across the House will agree that it is badly needed. Our homes are among the least energy-efficient in Europe and heating them accounts for 14% of all UK carbon emissions. If we do not retrofit around 29 million existing homes in the UK we will not be able to reach net zero by 2050. This is a mammoth task, so we must act now.

However, decarbonising housing is not just about tackling the climate crisis: millions of people are living in freezing homes that are expensive to heat, left at the mercy of the volatile gas market. Poor-quality housing is costing people their health and even their lives. Retrofitting homes would reduce bills, make homes safer and improve people’s quality of life. It would also create new jobs in every part of the country, helping build the green economy we so desperately need.

The Climate Change Committee has found that people accept the need to make changes to their homes, but they need well-designed policies to help them to act. The biggest barrier for many will be the up-front cost. The Government have funding to retrofit the homes of people on low incomes, and that is available through the social housing decarbonisation fund and the sustainable warmth fund, but the amount on offer just is not enough, particularly given the rising labour and material costs. In fact, last year, the number of Government-funded energy efficiency measures installed in UK homes dropped by half, year on year. It is now a shocking 97% below 2012 levels.

If the Government had not cut energy efficiency support in 2013, just imagine how many more people might have spent last winter in a comfortable home and how many fewer families would have had to choose between heating and eating. Short-sighted Tory cuts have cost us a decade in a fight we cannot afford to lose. We need long-term consistent funding and a clear road map of how the decarbonisation of housing will be achieved. Local authorities are uniquely placed to understand the needs of their area and to target schemes where they can provide the most benefits. In Nottingham, against the odds, more than 4,000 homes have been retrofitted by the city council in the past decade. Just imagine what more could be achieved by councils across the country with long-term predictable funding for decarbonising homes. The amendment is calling for the Government to undertake an assessment of the benefits of providing this funding to local authorities. I hope the House will invest in our future by supporting new clause 35.

Craig Mackinlay Portrait Craig Mackinlay
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I suppose that the volume of my amendments probably speaks for itself, but I have a great interest in this Bill. I am aware of the limitation of time this afternoon, so I will keep my observations to the two areas that I think are fundamentally important.

I absolutely despise this Bill. I have been in this House for eight years, and I have rarely seen a Bill of such nature. It is 426 pages, and it has attracted 146 pages of amendments. That means it has a lot of interest, but I want to discuss two of the amendments that I have tabled.

First, amendment 50 relates to clause 152(4) and the hydrogen grid conversion trials. The clause seeks to amend the Gas Act 1986, and I am particularly concerned by subsection (4), which increases the rights and powers available to unknown new inspectors. It includes the

“power to enter premises in the trial location for the purpose of inspecting anything on the premises, or carrying out any tests on the premises, in preparation for or otherwise in connection with the trial.”

My amendment, which I tabled with others, would interpose at least a magistrate—a justice of the peace—in that proposal before we start entering people’s premises. We accept that in other energy matters. For example, to have a meter changed, it has to go through a magistrates court. I know that well, as I used to sit as one.

Clause 248 causes me the most gross concern. It is the reason that I hope an amendment can be accepted, although I know it was not selected by Mr Speaker. The clause is titled “Sanctions”, and I suppose it does what it says on the tin. Subsection (4) states: “Energy performance regulations”—which are unknown and may be put into place in this House in the future by statutory instrument—

“may provide for the imposition of civil penalties by enforcement authorities”

for a penalty of up to £15,000 for not complying with those regulations. Were that not bad enough, all in this House should sit up and take notice of subsection (3) —I know it is a big Bill. It states that energy performance regulations, which are as yet unknown, but are available to be put on the statute book in the future by statutory instrument,

“may provide for the creation of criminal offences”

in relation to various cases, with imprisonment for a term of up to 12 months.

I do not know about other Members in the House, but I rather like “The Shawshank Redemption”. It is a great film. I can imagine the old lags in the future having a chat about why they are in prison. One might say, “I’ve done benefit fraud—£50,000-worth—and I got six months.” Another might say, “I had dangerous driving causing an injury—8 months.” The businessman talking to them will say, “I had a very good business with 20 people working for me in a factory. They have all been put out of work. My business has closed and my family are on the street.” The others will say, “What on earth did you do, sir?” and he will say, “I infringed an energy performance certificate, and I got 12 months.”