Local Government Finance (Supplementary Credit Approvals) Bill — Power in place of duty to specify amortisation period — 8 Jul 1997

Oliver Letwin MP, West Dorset voted in the minority (No).

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I shall follow the precedent established by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) in moving new clause 2 and show the House that I wish to be helpful. I believe that the inclusion of a reference to energy efficiency in the Bill will strengthen it greatly.

Energy efficiency is widely, perhaps universally, recognised as a desirable goal. It is one of the few areas where environmental and economic aims coincide. Greater attention to energy efficiency improves the environment, saves money and can, under certain circumstances, create jobs--at least on a temporary basis. Partly because of the lack of controversy surrounding the subject, the issue has become rather unglamorous. It does not attract as much political attention as is justified.

Against that background, I am surprised that the Government did not include something like this new clause in the original draft of the Bill. Their failure to do so is part of a consistent and regrettable pattern. As with so many other environmental goals, the Government claim to support energy efficiency. Labour Members have referred to the subject many times in speeches and have used fine phrases at home and sometimes abroad. However, there has not been much action--and there was no action at all in the Budget last week. A Treasury press release promised

"to examine options to help people on low incomes to insulate their homes and save energy."

A promise to examine options does not add up to much--particularly when it is set alongside other Budget measures, which include a powerful incentive to increase energy

consumption in the form of a cut in value added tax on domestic fuel prices. On 4 December 1996, the then Labour spokesman on environmental issues, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock), said:

"each year we will publish a 'green book' alongside the Chancellor's Red Book, setting out the environmental implications of Government policy."--[ Official Report , 4 December 1996; Vol. 286, c. 991.]

No such green book appeared, because Ministers knew that it would expose the Government's gross failure to honour any of their environmental obligations. They knew also that it would expose the fact that the net impact of the Budget measures might well be to increase carbon dioxide emissions.

Such an impact is in unhappy and stark contrast to the fine phrases used by the Prime Minister when he addressed the Earth summit in New York a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps the hon. Lady's commitment was the reason why she was not appointed as Minister of State, Department of the Environment. Perhaps she was shuffled off to the sidelines as a warning to other Labour Members not to make commitments of that sort.

When the Minister for London and Construction replies to the debate, will he make it clear that the Government intend to make amends by publishing the "green book" that the hon. Member for Deptford promised last December? If he does not, should the House take it as a sign that new Labour, like old Labour, does not give a stuff about the environment--that this is just another pre-election promise that can now be junked, like the promises on pensions, the national health service and on tax? Every one of those promises is now worthless. They were given merely to win votes and are now forgotten.

We are left with the Chancellor's promise that the Treasury will report to Parliament in October about the effect of a reduced rate of VAT on energy efficiency materials. However, we do not need to wait until October to know that cutting VAT on energy efficiency materials will encourage investment in energy efficiency. In that context, I draw much encouragement from the comments of the Minister for the Environment--I am sorry to see that he is not in his place for a debate that touches directly on his responsibilities. The right hon. Gentleman succeeded the hon. Member for Deptford, and is now the Minister with responsibility for environmental matters.

As recently as last week--unfortunately for the right hon. Gentleman, it was the day before the Budget--he answered a parliamentary question about the need to levy VAT on energy-saving materials at the same rate as VAT on fuel prices. The right hon. Gentleman said:

"I am certainly on record as supporting that argument. Such a policy is desirable".--[ Official Report , 1 July 1997; Vol. 297, c. 90.]

When the Minister replies to the debate, will he confirm that he shares the view expressed by his ministerial colleague? Will he confirm that he and his right hon. Friend will resign from the Government in October if the Treasury report does not support their view or will he merely confirm that his views on this issue, as on all other issues, are of no consequence whatever to the Treasury? [Interruption.] That seems to cause great mirth on the Government Front Bench. Will the Minister confirm that, in this Government, the Chancellor and the Treasury are all-powerful, and that the Treasury does not care about either his views or the environment?

Last week, the Deputy Prime Minister pronounced on the purpose of the Bill in the context of a press release that was issued with the Budget papers. He set out in two paragraphs the purposes to which the resources that he claims will be released by the Bill will be applied. In that press release, the Deputy Prime Minister did not see fit to mention energy efficiency in a single phrase.

That was yet another missed opportunity for the Government to pay even lip service to environmental goals and another sign of their priorities. There are no public spending implications in mentioning energy efficiency in a press release. I am forced to conclude that Ministers mention energy efficiency only when they are attending events such as the Earth summit. As soon as there is a chance to do something, they quickly forget their commitment to green objectives.

There is a very clear mechanism for doing something about energy efficiency rather than talking about it.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this, it will be convenient to discuss new clause 8-- Total amount of supplementary

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 1, leave out lines 16 to 21.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 21, at end add

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:--

The House divided: Ayes 350, Noes 138.

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Party Summary

Votes by party, red entries are votes against the majority for that party.

What is Tell? '+1 tell' means that in addition one member of that party was a teller for that division lobby.

What are Boths? An MP can vote both aye and no in the same division. The boths page explains this.

What is Turnout? This is measured against the total membership of the party at the time of the vote.

PartyMajority (Aye)Minority (No)BothTurnout
Con0 137 (+2 tell)186.4%
Independent1 00100.0%
Lab316 (+2 tell) 0076.3%
LDem31 0067.4%
PC2 0050.0%
UUP0 1010.0%
Total:350 138177.0%

Rebel Voters - sorted by party

MPs for which their vote in this division differed from the majority vote of their party. You can see all votes in this division, or every eligible MP who could have voted in this division

Sort by: Name | Constituency | Party | Vote

NameConstituencyPartyVote
Mr Peter Temple-MorrisLeominsterwhilst Conboth

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