Apologies for lack of blog posts over the Christmas period; climate change is mainly to blame, but a surfeit of sherry and mince pies may also have had something to do with it.
As you may be aware the Energy bill (Lords) was published prior to the Christmas recess and had its second reading on 12th December (in the Lords, of course). There were no great surprises in Chris Huhne’s Christmas sack, except perhaps how short the Bill is, including the title. After all the various titles trailed, (‘Energy Security and Green Economy Bill’ etc. etc.) it is now ‘The Energy Bill’. Clearly someone worked through the night to come up with that one.
It is mostly about the Green Deal; or rather it is about how to enable the Green Deal, which is subtly different. The bill as a whole contains 105 clauses, almost half of which are in the form of powers for the minister to make orders implementing whatever is the stated subject of the clause. This is really pretty unsatisfactory as a piece of legislation in general, and as an Energy bill in particular. It means that most of the substance of the Bill will turn up this year sometime, never, or when the minister gets round to it. In fact the Bill as a whole comes into force when the Secretary of State decides by statutory instrument.
Bills that have this number of pasted-in enablers either do so because the Department is still writing the substance of the legislation, and may clarify by Government amendment as the Bill progresses, or they deliberately want to keep the substance fluid, so that parts may be implemented or not, as the mood takes them. This latter intent, if that is what it is, is not good news for clarity about the future of – in this case- a Green Deal that needs to have clarity and certainty about it an early stage if it is to work well. Perhaps we will see some clarifying amendments: I would hope some committee members in the Lords, and subsequently in the Commons will try to get stiffer substance onto the face of the Bill as it progresses.
The Bill is also short because most of the other clauses are bits and pieces – some elements of energy security legislation such as a possible public service obligation on gas supply having apparently evaporated. One very clear piece of miscellany (even headed ‘miscellaneous’) however, is the straightforward repeal of the 1995 Home Energy Efficiency Act. The explanatory notes say that, on the last government’s consultation on HECA, most agreed to repeal. Not quite so. Many people accepted repeal based on new performance targets and indicators for Local Authorities on energy efficiency and fuel poverty. No sign of any replacements here, or even a power for the minister to introduce such measures: just repeal.
I will be following the progress of the Bill carefully and hope to see the addition of a significant number of clarifying amendments, but for the moment it seems that the green energy lobby didn’t quite get all they wanted for Christmas.