The Energy Bill has hit the commons. Last Monday we had the second reading: introductory speeches, the big guns from DECC on the front bench, the lot. It is always a little disorientating when such a set piece starts from a Bill that has already been introduced in the Lords. You are discussing, in outline terms a Bill that, if you have cared to read the proceedings in Hansard, has already had the same grand introduction and then detailed scrutiny in ‘another place‘. Quite a lot should have happened to the bill already, and here we all were, talking about it as if it were brand new. Except that in this instance it almost was, because, frankly, so much of the content of the bill was just a hazy sketch in the Lords that much of the scrutiny it will receive in Committee in the Commons will be from first principles. That is not in any way to castigate the efforts of my colleagues in the Lords: it must have been for them like trying to judge a flower show while the marquees are still being put up and most of the exhibits haven’t arrived. To have quite so many clauses awaiting even the most basic indication of how they will work through secondary legislation is pretty poor, to be honest.
So what was interesting about the second reading, and was, I think a bit of a novel approach, was the extent to which bits of exhibit were rushed on the stage to be judged at various parts of the proceedings. During his opening speech, Secretary of State Chris Huhne indicated that, contrary to the ‘resolute’ facing down of amendments in the Lords, the Government was now going to introduce clauses requiring landlords wishing to rent out properties after 2018 to raise energy standards to at least above F or G SAP rating or be fined. A very welcome and useful change (2016 would be better, mind you) but couldn’t it have been done before, perhaps? Similarly the announcement of two more intended changes to the legislation by way of interventions from a quite excitable Greg Barker jumping up to intervene on other speakers. Not only is the government not going to repeal the Home Energy Act, as clause 105 explicitly provided for, but it might introduce a clause aligning home energy efficiency targets with climate change commitments. I was so taken by Barker’s intervention on HECA, that I rather inappropriately invited him to confirm this in an intervention on my speech, which he very kindly did, although I am still not sure whether the intention now is simply to keep HECA, or incorporate parts of it into new legislation. We shall see when the committee stage gets under way. If carried through, these look like some positive steps to strengthen the bill, although there is still a long way to go, not least in making the loan arrangements for Green Deal work, which remains rather a basic problem with the whole thing. If you really insist, you can see what I said in the debate (here).