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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 20 February 2019

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill: Preliminary Stage, Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, St Rollox Railway Works


Contents


Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

It is time to move on to the next item of business—when you are ready, Mr Simpson.

The next item of business is a stage 1 debate on motion S5M-15892, in the name of Kevin Stewart, on the Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill.

15:03  

I am pleased to be opening the stage 1 debate on the Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill. In this day and age, it is unacceptable that any Scottish household should have to make the choice between having the heating on and cooking dinner. If Scotland is to become a fairer and more socially just society, it is crucial that we make real headway towards ending the scourge of fuel poverty.

We are ambitious in our aims. Our groundbreaking bill places Scotland among the best countries in the world for tackling fuel poverty. Not only are we one of just a few countries in the world to have defined “fuel poverty”, but we are setting a goal for eradicating it. We are also changing our definition of fuel poverty so that it is much more reflective of relative income poverty, and we are being revolutionary through our introduction of a minimum income standard.

I thank the Local Government and Communities Committee for its detailed examination of the bill. I also thank the committee clerks, stakeholders, organisations and individuals who have contributed to the scrutiny process and engaged on the bill. I appreciate all their work to make the bill as good as it can be. I am, of course, pleased that the committee’s comprehensive report welcomes the bill and our draft fuel poverty strategy, as well as recommending that Parliament agree the general principles of the bill.

I turn to the bill’s three key aims. The first is to set the target

“that in the year 2040, no more than 5% of households in Scotland are in fuel poverty.”

The second aim is to capture, in the definition of fuel poverty, the folks who most need help, so we are proposing a new definition of fuel poverty that makes innovative use of the minimum income standard in order to better align fuel poverty with relative income poverty. Thirdly, the bill will ensure that a new long-term fuel poverty strategy will be prepared, published and laid before Parliament.

Crucially, the bill will ensure that in preparation of the strategy we will consult people with lived experience of fuel poverty in order to ensure that our key measures and polices hit the mark. I am very grateful to Ann Loughrey and the Scottish fuel poverty advisory panel and partnership forum for their help in that regard. Once the strategy has been published, ministers must report every five years on the steps that have been taken, on progress that has been made towards meeting the target, and on the plan for the next reporting period. That reporting obligation will provide this and future Governments with focus and momentum in the fight against fuel poverty.

The bill is the product of a thorough and collaborative process. In 2015, we set up two short-life independent bodies to report on fuel poverty: the fuel poverty strategic working group and the rural fuel poverty task force. Following on from their reports, an independent academic panel was tasked with reviewing the definition of fuel poverty. The majority of its recommendations have been incorporated in the definition of fuel poverty that is in the bill.

We also ran a fuel poverty strategy consultation prior to publishing a draft fuel poverty strategy alongside the bill, and we set up the fuel poverty advisory panel and partnership forum as part of a robust new framework for monitoring progress in tackling fuel poverty, and for advising the Government. My officials and I have engaged widely with stakeholders throughout the process, and Parliament can be assured that we will continue to do so. All that shows just how serious the Scottish Government is about tackling fuel poverty.

I have responded to the committee’s conclusions and recommendations, and have outlined the many with which I agree and where I will lodge amendments at stage 2. I take the opportunity to discuss some of those now.

I welcome the committee’s support of the bill’s major aim, which is

“the target ... that in ... 2040, no more than 5% of households in Scotland are in fuel poverty.”

I also confirm my intention to introduce two interim 2030 targets: that by 2030 the fuel poverty rate will be no more than 15 per cent and the median fuel poverty gap will be no more than £350 in 2015 prices, before adding inflation.

The Government’s ambition is simple: it is to put an end to all fuel poverty. We will not stop working until that happens. All the targets will go a long way towards ensuring that we address the severity of fuel poverty, as well as its prevalence. I therefore note the committee’s recommendation that we also include a target to tackle extreme fuel poverty. I am pleased to say that I have listened to the committee and will lodge a stage 2 amendment to define extreme fuel poverty and set a target for its eradication.

The committee expressed the view that the Government should consider lodging an amendment to apply the 5 per cent target for 2040 to all 32 of Scotland’s local authorities. However, although we are committed to helping folks out of fuel poverty no matter where in Scotland they live, I am keen to avoid setting some local authorities a goal that is unachievable and unrealistic. I have set out my views in detail in my response to the committee, but I am concerned that its proposal does not seem to be evidence led, and in particular that it has not been the subject of any consultation. I have therefore written to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to seek its views in detail. I note, in the meantime, that it has already written to the committee to express its concerns.

I welcome the committee’s support for our proposed use of the UK minimum income standard in the measurement of fuel poverty, which will improve the alignment between fuel poverty and income poverty. No one should underestimate how important and innovative that move is. More than 80 per cent of fuel-poor households are also income poor under the proposed new definition, compared with just over 60 per cent under the current definition. Households that might not be income poor, but which struggle nonetheless to pay their fuel bills and to maintain an acceptable standard of living, will also be captured by the new definition.

I understand the concerns that have been raised about the higher costs that are faced by people in remote rural areas, remote small towns and island communities. I have carefully considered the committee's recommendations and the views of stakeholders that the Government should commit to introducing an additional MIS for remote rural areas, remote small towns and islands in order to reflect those costs.

In recognition of the unique challenges that such areas face in the fight against fuel poverty, I will lodge an amendment at stage 2 to introduce an MIS uplift, as the committee has requested, for areas that form categories 4 and 6 of the Government's six-fold urban/rural classification. I am examining the options for how that can best be carried out, along with the costs involved, and I intend to write to the committee to seek its views before lodging amendments.

I welcome what the minister says about a rural MIS. Does he accept that it is imperative that the uplift be introduced on a robust and independent basis, so the input of people such as Professor Hirsch of Loughborough University must play a part in development of the policy?

I assure Mr McArthur that we have continued to speak to Professor Hirsch since he gave evidence and after publication of the stage 1 report, and that we will continue to do so. It would be wrong to introduce a policy that was not robust, so I will write to the committee, setting out the options and seeking its views, before I lodge stage 2 amendments. I thank Mr McArthur and others for continuing to engage with the Government during the process. We have had some robust exchanges and some very good ones. Long may that continue.

For our island communities, I emphasise that, in addition to our MIS commitment, we are conducting an islands impact assessment for the bill. The relevant provisions of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 are not yet in force, and the guidance for such assessments is still in development, but our assessment will be in the spirit of the act, in partnership and consultation with island communities and the six relevant local authorities.

The Government is alive to the calls from Mr McArthur, Alasdair Allan and others that the assessment should not be a desk-based exercise. I am firmly of the view that it is better for the Scottish Government to take the time to produce a comprehensive and detailed assessment in partnership with island communities. I previously committed to publish the assessment before stage 3. I confirm that that remains my intention: it will be published by the end of April.

I turn to reporting on fuel poverty. I am pragmatic and open to persuasion that reporting needs to be more frequent than every five years. That said, in order to avoid duplication and to promote co-ordination between complementary Government policies, I am keen to co-ordinate the timeframe for reporting on fuel poverty with the timeframes for reporting on energy efficiency and climate change.

I also want to ensure that fuel poverty reporting obligations do not place an undue burden on our local authority partners. I am aware that COSLA wrote to the committee to express its concern that that might be the case. I also share COSLA’s concern that there is potential for reporting obligations to detract from front-line delivery. I do not rule out lodging a stage 2 amendment to make the reporting obligation on fuel poverty more frequent, but I want to engage with COSLA further to understand its views and ensure that we have the appropriate balance between its views and those of the committee.

As members will now be aware, I have carefully considered the views of the committee and aim to lodge many of the amendments that it has recommended. However, I cannot agree with the committee on the suggestion that the Scottish fuel poverty advisory panel be made statutory. In terms of its composition and structure, the panel is not the same as the United Kingdom Committee on Climate Change. It is key that the panel remains flexible and adaptable. To maintain its role over the intended lifetime of our proposed fuel poverty act, the panel’s membership and remit must keep pace with the changing landscape of fuel poverty, potential new technologies and opportunities, and future partnerships.

I also share COSLA’s concern that the creation of a statutory body would risk diverting funding away from the core objective of supporting households out of fuel poverty. I am sure that nobody wants that. I am strongly of the view that Parliament can provide the scrutiny that is required to ensure that this and future Governments keep on track on the objectives that we all share.

I am grateful that we have the opportunity to discuss the aims of the Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill this afternoon, and I look forward to hearing members’ views.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill.

15:17  

I am pleased to open the stage 1 debate on the Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill on behalf of the Local Government and Communities Committee. I thank the minister for responding to our report last week in time for today’s debate.

As the minister stated, the bill primarily sets a target to reduce fuel poverty to no more than 5 per cent of Scottish households by 2040, sets a new definition of fuel poverty, requires the Government to bring forward a strategy to meet the target and puts in place reporting requirements. [Interruption.]

Excuse me, Mr Dornan—could you move your mic over a little bit? We really want to hear you.

My apologies, Presiding Officer.

Recent statistics show that fuel poverty affects 24.9 per cent of households in Scotland, with some individuals and families struggling to pay their fuel bills or heat their homes to an acceptable and comfortable level. Living in a cold, draughty home can have a negative impact on people’s physical health and mental wellbeing and can impact children’s attainment. No person should have to choose between heating their home or eating. Therefore, it is disappointing that so many households remain in fuel poverty, despite efforts by previous Administrations to tackle the issue.

The bill before us has been informed by such efforts. Most recently, a target that was set by the Labour-Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive in 2002 for people to not be living in fuel poverty by November 2016 was not met. Following a number of independent reviews and consultations led by the Scottish Government, a new definition of fuel poverty was strongly recommended—one that would more accurately identify those in financial distress in order to better target resources at those in greatest need. I will come back to the definition later in my speech.

The Local Government and Communities Committee was appointed as the lead committee for scrutiny of the bill on 5 September 2018. We received 67 written responses to our call for views, which closed on 9 November 2018. We heavily promoted our scrutiny of the bill on social media and held a number of oral evidence sessions with expert stakeholders. In addition to taking oral evidence, some committee members travelled to Dundee and the Western Isles to hear directly about the different experiences of those who face fuel poverty in urban and rural communities. In doing so, we heard about the particular challenges that are faced by those who live on our islands. I thank all those who provided written and oral evidence and all those who engaged with us during our scrutiny.

I turn to some of our key recommendations. Section 1 of the bill puts in place a new target for less than 5 per cent of households in Scotland being in fuel poverty by 2040. Although there was some debate around whether the target threshold should be set lower than 5 per cent, we agreed that that target is achievable and strikes the right balance between realism and ambition, recognising that the Scottish Government has little or no influence over two of the four main drivers of fuel poverty. However, we acknowledge that the 5 per cent target should not limit the ambition of future Governments and that the longer-term focus should be on eradicating fuel poverty.

There was also some debate around whether the target’s end date should be brought forward from 2040. Given that reaching the target will rely on technologies that are still in development, the committee came to the view that it is realistic to build in time for those to come on stream.

It is also encouraging that the Government has agreed to our recommendation to amend the bill to enshrine in statue the interim targets that are currently set out in the draft strategy that accompanies the bill. Specifically, those targets are that, by 2030, the fuel poverty rate will be no more than 15 per cent and the median fuel poverty gap will be no more than £350 at 2015 prices. It is hoped that such measures will help to prevent drift from reaching the target.

To prevent resources from being targeted at low-hanging fruit—the easiest-to-treat properties—we called on the Scottish Government to bring forward a separate target to tackle extreme poverty. Extreme poverty has previously been categorised as encompassing households that have to spend 20 per cent of their income on fuel. It is therefore welcome that the minister has committed to bring forward proposals for a separate target to tackle extreme poverty at stage 2.

I also note that the Government will give further consideration to the committee’s suggestion that local targets be applied to address regional disparities. I look forward to receiving an update from the minister on the outcome of the Government’s consultation with COSLA on the committee’s proposals.

To more closely align fuel poverty with income poverty, section 2 puts in place a new definition that assesses whether a household is in fuel poverty following the deduction of housing costs, such as rent, mortgage, council tax and water rates, as well as childcare costs. It uses an income threshold measure known as the minimum income standard—MIS—to determine an acceptable standard of living. That was deemed necessary given that, under the existing definition, a number of households that were considered to be fuel poor were not actually facing financial distress.

The greater alignment between fuel poverty and income is welcome, as it will provide a more accurate picture of those who experience fuel poverty. However, many people expressed concerns that the new definition does not accurately capture those who face fuel poverty in our island and remote rural communities. We therefore called on the Scottish Government to bring forward an additional rural MIS to recognise the higher costs that are faced by those communities. It is welcome that the Government has accepted that recommendation, and we look forward to liaising with the minister on that important change in the lead-up to stage 2. It is also encouraging that the Government will carry out an islands impact assessment of the bill and the associated strategy.

We heard concerns that the complexity of the new definition could hinder the delivery of services on the ground. We therefore called for more information on the minister’s thinking around the development of a doorstep tool and on how proxies will be used alongside the new definition to better identify those who are in fuel poverty. It is helpful to have received clarification from the minister that the use of proxies will continue and that the Government, alongside COSLA, will further consider what tools and guidance are necessary for councils to target resources at those in the greatest need.

Sections 3 to 5 require the Scottish Government to prepare a fuel poverty strategy that sets out how the 2040 target will be achieved. They also set out the consultation, publication and laying requirements for the strategy. The committee agreed with those proposals, particularly the requirement to involve people with lived experience of fuel poverty. At the same time, however, we agree with our witnesses that it should be a collaborative, and not a top-down, process.

I turn to the contents of the draft fuel poverty strategy, which was published alongside the bill. It is welcome that the minister will listen to the views of our stakeholders on suggested improvements as part of on-going engagement with them. I was particularly encouraged that the minister will look to improve the strategy in relation to the list of issues that are highlighted in paragraph 199 of our report, which include how fuel poverty will be tackled in the private housing sector and our rural and island communities, and the actions that the Scottish Government will take to address all four drivers of fuel poverty, including those that are primarily the responsibility of the UK Government.

As our report sets out, we have written to the UK Government regarding problems that have been caused to people’s houses by works that were carried out under UK-based energy efficiency schemes. We heard of serious misgivings about the administration of some of those schemes, and it is encouraging that the Scottish Government is also pursuing that matter with the UK Government.

I am very grateful to the committee for looking at the situation with the UK schemes. As Mr Dornan has pointed out, the Scottish Government has been on to the UK Government on a number of occasions about trying to deal with some of the real difficulties that have been caused. I am very grateful to the committee for its efforts in joining the Scottish Government to try to seek a resolution, and I would appreciate our continuing to liaise on the matter. We must do all that we can to get the UK Government to see sense on those folk who are suffering because of Home Energy and Lifestyle Management and others.

I assure the minister that the committee will be happy to liaise with him regarding those letters.

The bill requires the Scottish ministers to lay periodic reports on the progress that has been made towards reaching the 2040 target alongside the steps that will be taken in the next reporting period to meet the target. It is welcome that the Government will report on progress in relation to all four drivers of fuel poverty. The bill currently provides that those reports should be laid every five years but, given the concerns that have been raised, we have recommended that they be laid every three years. The vast majority of those from whom we heard called for more frequent reporting. I note that the Government will consult COSLA on the viability of increasing the frequency of reporting, and I look forward to an update in due course.

It is disappointing that the Government has not accepted our recommendation to put the Scottish fuel poverty advisory panel on a statutory footing to provide an independent scrutiny role. However, the minister has provided the committee with clear reasons as to why that recommendation has not been accepted.

As the minister has noted, the Parliament will no doubt pay close attention to the Government’s progress towards meeting the target as well as to the steps that it will take as the new technologies that are required in the fight against fuel poverty are developed.

I put on record my thanks to the committee clerks and officials in the Scottish Parliament information centre for all their assistance during the stage 1 process, and to everybody who gave evidence in person or in writing.

The bill has the potential to make a difference to the lives of many families in Scotland, but the real test will be whether the measures and strategies that accompany it are practical, deliverable and robust. It will be the job of the Parliament to keep a watch on that in the coming years.

The committee commends the bill to the Parliament and recommends that the Parliament agrees to its general principles.

15:28  

The Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill should have been an exciting and far-reaching piece of legislation, but it is anything but that. However, it can change. The six pages of the bill could be replaced with a six-line press release and the same thing could be achieved.

In 2016, the Scottish National Party made a manifesto pledge to introduce a warm homes bill. In November 2017, the Scottish Government said:

“Eradicating fuel poverty is crucial to making Scotland fairer and that is why we are proposing that the key purpose of the Warm Homes Bill will be to enshrine in legislation our long term ambition to eradicate fuel poverty.”

Here we are in 2019 with a fuel poverty bill—not a warm homes bill—that does not set a target to eradicate fuel poverty. The bill even states its purpose to be

“An Act of the Scottish Parliament to set a target relating to the eradication of fuel poverty”.

Its purpose is not to set a target for the eradication of fuel poverty—which would have meant something—but

“to set a target relating to the eradication of fuel poverty”.

That is a far cry from the words that were issued by the Scottish Government in 2017. The bill is well meaning, but it lacks ambition.

First, the bill sets a new definition of fuel poverty. It says that, once a household has paid for its housing, it is in fuel poverty if it needs more than 10 per cent of its remaining income to pay for its energy needs and that leaves the household in poverty. That seems fair enough.

The bill sets a target of reducing the rate of fuel poverty to 5 per cent within—wait for it—21 years.

I am quite surprised by the tone of the speech so far. My understanding was that there was more or less consensus in the committee, and I do not remember you or any other colleague dissenting on any of the specifics, including the 2040 date, when we put the report together.

Always address members through the chair, please.

Mr Gibson is well aware of how committee reports are put together. Members are entitled to give an alternative opinion in debates such as this one.

Who will be accountable at that date in 21 years’ time? By then, Ruth Davidson could be in her fourth term as First Minister, and her son could have graduated, but I cannot see most of us being here. Given that the target date is so far into the distance, the Local Government and Communities Committee was entirely right to suggest statutory interim milestones, which could prevent ministers from wriggling off the hook along the way. I tend towards the view, which was expressed by the Existing Homes Alliance Scotland, that the bill should be amended to ensure that corrective action is taken if targets are not met.

Will the member give way?

I will not on this occasion.

If the bill is not amended, all that we will get is a Government shrug of the shoulders and, quite possibly, an attempt to blame someone else. That said, I am still carefully considering whether to lodge an amendment that would move the target date forward.

As we have heard, the committee did some sterling work. We visited Dundee and Stornoway. In Dundee, we heard about the problems that people who use prepayment meters have if they want to switch providers. We saw how area-based schemes can successfully lift people out of fuel poverty and help their health at the same time.

In Stornoway, one of the bill’s serious omissions was brought home to us. When the minimum income standard is used, there is a refusal to define fuel poverty in a way that reflects the higher costs that are incurred by people who live on islands or in remote and rural areas.

Will the member give way?

No, because I am about to praise the minister for agreeing to amend the bill to reflect the committee’s view on that matter. Fuel poverty rates in urban Scotland have improved since 2015, but rates in rural areas have not improved, so there is a widening gap. We have a legislative vacuum that simply must be filled at stage 2, and a number of stakeholders agree.

The committee heard of contractors carrying out substandard work under UK Government-funded schemes and of lax monitoring. I have heard of such activity taking place before, and it does not interest me one bit which Government is to blame, if that is the right word. I insisted that we mention that issue in the committee’s report and, as he said, the convener has written to the Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth, Claire Perry, about it.

Much has been made of the target to reduce the rate of fuel poverty to 5 per cent. A number of groups, including Energy Action Scotland, believe that the target is not ambitious enough. As SPICe has said, that could mean that 140,000 households will still live in fuel poverty—which is 140,000 too many. However, it will never be possible to completely eradicate fuel poverty. People will move in and out of fuel poverty as their circumstances change and, of course, it is not possible to know about everybody’s circumstances.

One thing that the committee said that has caused some push-back is that reducing the rate of fuel poverty to 5 per cent should be achieved in every council area. COSLA did not like that, and nor did the minister, as he said earlier. However, the reason behind that suggestion was to ensure that no area slips through the net. I accept that more work will need to be done on that matter.

The bill commits ministers to preparing a fuel poverty strategy. Helpfully, the Government produced a draft strategy in which the minister describes the bill as a “landmark piece of legislation”. One of the best ways of reducing fuel poverty is to ensure that homes are as energy efficient as possible. The strategy says:

“all domestic properties are required to achieve an Energy Performance Certificate ... rating of at least EPC C by 2040 at the latest.”

The strategy does not say how that will come about. It does not recognise the very real concerns about the accuracy—or lack of it—of using EPCs, nor does it say anything about real action on making new and refurbished homes as near to the Passivhaus standard as possible. I have repeatedly pushed the minister on this issue, but it is now time for action.

There was much disappointment when the bill was published, and there will be a clamour to amend it. Indeed, Opposition members are already being sent suggestions for amendments. I hope that the minister has learned from his bitter experience with the Planning (Scotland) Bill that he should be engaging with us in detail right now—

Mr Simpson well knows that I will engage with anyone and everyone, and I have done so throughout the passage of this bill, as I have with others. Some members take the opportunity to speak to me, stakeholders always have that opportunity, and some of the reasoning behind the changes that will be made in stage 2 amendments has emerged from those discussions. I do not appreciate Mr Simpson’s insinuation that there has been no discussion on this matter, given that I met him and Alexander Stewart in the very early stages of the process and will do so again if there is such a request.

I think that the minister has learned his lesson, because he has had a discussion with me and Mr Stewart, he has responded well to the committee’s report, and he has said that he will lodge very helpful amendments. It would be in nobody’s interest not to move forward along those lines.

We, on the Conservative benches, are pretty underwhelmed by the bill. However, we think that it can be improved, and we will support it at stage 1.

15:36  

I thank the Local Government and Communities Committee for a lengthy but excellent piece of work. I must confess that I did not read all of it, but I know that the committee went into real detail in its work.

I wonder whether Ruth Davidson is watching the Parliament on her maternity leave—who knows?—and I also have to wonder what she thought about Graham Simpson committing her to another four terms in this place. I have to say that the rest of us are slightly alarmed by that commitment.

Like everyone else, I believe that every Scot has the right to live in a warm, affordable and secure home. Unfortunately, we are a long way from that reality, with just over a quarter of households living in fuel poverty. The energy watchdog, the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, recently announced an increase in the cap on the default tariff, which most people are on, and as those who saw that announcement will know, it means that, on 1 April, more than 1 million households in Scotland will be looking at an average rise of £110 a year. It is a really important point; the vast majority of people—even those who should know better that cheaper deals are available—are on default tariffs. Ofgem is the organisation that is meant to be protecting the consumer, but uSwitch has warned that larger families in Scotland could see their annual bills rise by up to £184 a year, and Age Scotland has responded to the increase in the cap by saying that it will do nothing to tackle fuel poverty and, indeed,

“makes a mockery of the term ‘cap’”.

I agree completely and utterly with Ms McNeill. It is a great pity that, as far as the drivers of fuel poverty are concerned, this Parliament has no control over fuel prices or income. Between 2003-04 and 2017, the median household income in Scotland rose by 50 per cent while at the same time fuel prices rose by 158 per cent. I am grateful that a cap is in place, but it does not go far enough. I believe that this Parliament should have control over that, and I hope that Ms McNeill will consider supporting us in that regard.

I am on record as saying that someone should certainly have control over the matter, and it is certainly something that I am willing to discuss. Not even the Westminster Parliament has control over energy prices.

That said, I am sure that the minister takes the most relevant point: more people are going to be living in fuel poverty as energy prices begin to rise. We can encourage people to switch to cheaper tariffs, but recent research by the consumer organisation Which? indicates that energy companies have dramatically reduced the number of cheaper deals that are available. Price is just one factor in all of this, but reducing the number of cheaper deals will mean that less cheaper fuel is available.

Like Graham Simpson, I do not see this bill as groundbreaking or revolutionary, but I think that we can get there by stage 3.

Labour welcomes the introduction of the bill, but we think that it falls short in many areas. It is narrowly drawn, which is a huge mistake. The Existing Homes Alliance Scotland has said:

“we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to tackle it and we must take it. We want to eradicate fuel poverty for good.”

I know that we all want that. I welcome what the minister said on the forthcoming amendments to the bill on interim targets and extreme fuel poverty. We wholly welcome that. However, I believe that the delivery section of the bill should reflect more of the format of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 by setting out areas where we can begin to improve. In the case of the bill, that would be improving energy efficiency to reduce householders’ energy costs. How else are we to achieve the targets? It has to sound more like a real ambition to prevent more people from living in cold and draughty homes. We need to know how the Scottish Government intends to achieve that.

We need delivery of help for poorer households. Citizens Advice Scotland has said that those who find it most difficult to afford their energy bills are less likely to have access to support. Ministers should be having discussions with the big six suppliers and others about improving emergency credit schemes and helping their most vulnerable customers—I see the minister nodding.

There is a lot of work to be done in the area. One of the most concerning issues is that, with yet another price hike, even more customers are struggling to pay their bills, particularly those who are already vulnerable. Ofgem is consulting on its consumer vulnerability strategy, and it is important that we see more standardisation across the sector. Energy companies are supposed to have a priority services register, but there are currently no standard qualifying criteria for vulnerable households to be placed on the register. More than ever, we need to find a way to ensure that companies take vulnerable customers off standard variable tariffs and place them on a more favourable deal. Simply through discussion, more could be done to force companies to do that.

Will the member give way on that point?

Very quickly—I do not want a long intervention like the last one.

You got there before I did, Ms McNeill.

The Government has engaged with the big six suppliers and others on the issue. I would welcome cross-party support from across the Parliament so that we can act together to put pressure on those companies to see sense in that regard.

I can give you a little extra time, Ms McNeill.

The minister will definitely have our support on that.

I want to say a little about rural communities, although that has been well covered by Graham Simpson and James Dornan. More than two fifths of Scots live in rural areas, and huge numbers of them are estimated to be suffering from fuel poverty. It is clear that an adjustment needs to be made to the definition of fuel poverty. I heard what the minister said on that, although we need to see the detail. That is to be particularly welcomed for people in rural communities, because it is clear that it is much harder for them to reduce their energy costs when they do not have the same access to the national grid. We also need to consider lifting the level of the warm homes discount for households in rural areas, to recognise the high levels of fuel poverty there.

Graham Simpson has spoken many times about the private rented sector, and I add my voice to his on that. Private renters are more likely to live in a house that requires critical and urgent repair and that does not meet the Scottish housing quality standard, which often means living in a home with insufficient insulation. People who live in the private rented sector are twice as likely to live in homes in the lowest EPC bands, and the rates of fuel poverty in the sector are above the national average. In the delivery plan, we need to focus on the private sector to see what action can be taken to lift those households out of poverty.

Furthermore, we need to make it easier for home owners who might be able to pay a bit towards home energy efficiency measures to get Government support. I confess that I find the myriad of loans and grants under the schemes complicated to follow—I have studied them—so goodness knows what householders make of it. We need to do more to give people confidence to apply to what I believe are very good schemes. I call on the Scottish Government to advertise its zero interest rate loan scheme and review how more people could be helped. I think that more people are able to pay and, with Government support, might be prepared to make the jump and make their houses more fuel efficient.

We must eradicate fuel poverty once and for all. We must be ambitious for the fuel poor. We are only at stage 1, and I believe that, by stage 3, with a consensus, we can achieve that.

15:44  

As other members have done, I thank my Local Government and Communities Committee colleagues, the clerks, SPICe and everyone who gave evidence. I also thank the many groups who submitted briefings for today’s debate.

As the minister did, I pay tribute to the Scottish fuel poverty strategic working group and the Scottish rural fuel poverty task force, which were chaired, respectively, by David Sigsworth and Di Alexander, whose work contributed so much to the bill.

We know the statistics from the Scottish house condition survey. A quarter of households are living in fuel poverty and about 7 per cent of households are living in extreme fuel poverty. That is unacceptable and we need to tackle the issue.

Although I welcome the Scottish Government’s response to the committee’s report, which says that if we reach the target, Scotland will be

“amongst the very best in the world in terms of tackling fuel poverty”,

it is clear to me that we have an awful lot of work to do if we are to achieve that ambition. I will set out the Greens’ position and talk about where we will seek to make changes at stage 2.

It is worth noting that a bill that focuses on targets, definitions and strategies takes us only so far. A number of members have mentioned the promise of a warm homes bill. Such an approach has been abandoned, and instead we have targets, definitions and strategies. Delivery against a target will require us to integrate policies around climate change, the built environment, energy, health and so on. I welcome the minister’s commitment to align some reporting in that regard, which would be helpful.

The committee deliberated at length on the target, which was the focus of much evidence. In light of the failure to achieve the previous target, which was set in 2002, it is right that we take a more critical and sceptical view this time round. We welcome the commitment to interim statutory targets, but the 2040 target has been criticised for not being ambitious enough. The committee took the view that the target is okay, because it is pragmatic. However, with enhanced reporting and scrutiny, there should be the ability to consider whether progress can be made more quickly over the coming years. A 2032 target reflects the higher ambition and is preferable. If it cannot be achieved, we will know in advance.

The member will remember an issue that was raised in the committee with regard to an earlier target, which was that emerging technologies need time to be developed, to become available at a reasonable price to individuals in Scotland and to bed in. Are those factors in this debate?

I agree entirely that emerging technologies will be critical. They might be slow to arrive; they might be faster. We should not make predictions about how fast they might arrive.

There is an issue with the wording in the bill. The long title refers to the setting of

“a target relating to the eradication of fuel poverty”,

but given that the intention is to reduce the rate to 5 per cent, we should be more honest and say that the bill sets a target relating to the reduction of fuel poverty.

There has been a lot of talk about the four drivers of fuel poverty—the cost of energy, energy efficiency, household income and household behaviours—and how in Scotland we are in control only of energy efficiency and household behaviours.

In its response to the committee’s report, the Scottish Government said that it has “significant control” over only one of the four drivers, that is, home energy efficiency. The minister repeated that in an intervention during Pauline McNeill’s speech.

I disagree with that contention. The bill makes it clear that the definition of fuel poverty is based on a minimum income standard. Gross incomes are not within the significant control of the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government or indeed the UK Parliament, but the definition of fuel poverty uses not gross but net incomes—that is, incomes after housing costs, fuel costs, childcare costs, council tax and income tax.

All those things are within the direct influence of devolved powers. We can enhance people’s net incomes by reducing housing costs, reducing taxation, enhancing childcare provision and so on. My view is, therefore, that the Scottish Government has significant control over that area; it has the power to adjust income tax levels to ensure that the most vulnerable are not driven into fuel poverty in the first place.

What about national insurance? This Parliament—sadly—does not have control over that.

That is absolutely true. I am not arguing that the Parliament has complete control over net income; I am arguing that it has substantial control over people’s net incomes.

Another aspect of the bill that has been much commented on is the question of minimum income standard uplifts for remote and rural Scotland. I welcome the minister’s commitment to look at options in that area and, in particular, to consult the committee in advance of stage 2. That is a very productive way to proceed, and I hope that it will improve the bill.

Finally, I want to say a few words about scrutiny. Other members who have been in Parliament for longer than I have—I am looking at Jackie Baillie, among others—will have views on why the 2002 target was not met by 2016; for example, we know that rising fuel prices contributed. Failure to meet this target is also a possibility, for all sorts of reasons that we do not know about at the moment. The critical thing is to keep the target under review. Section 6 of the bill makes provision for reporting, but reporting is not scrutiny, especially when reports are laid by Scottish ministers who themselves have substantial responsibility for delivering.

It has already been mentioned that other legislation that enshrines targets, such as the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 and the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017, embed independent, statutory scrutiny mechanisms. The committee recommends such mechanisms in paragraph 219 of its report and I am disappointed that the Scottish ministers do not accept it.

I am not precious about how such independent scrutiny is achieved. The suggestion from the committee that the fuel poverty advisory group be placed on a statutory footing might be one option, but there are others. However, it is critical to have independent monitoring and scrutiny, because it is really important for the public to be able to assess whether progress has been made and whether it could be made faster or slower in response to emerging technologies. I do not think that the Parliament alone can do that job of scrutiny.

To conclude, the bill represents an important approach to tackling fuel poverty, but it is not in a fit state to deliver what is required. I look forward to working with other members and to engaging with ministers at stage 2.

15:51  

I thank James Dornan and his committee for the report and for enabling me to play my part in stage 1 scrutiny of this important bill.

I am grateful to all those who gave oral and written evidence, which I found invaluable, not least in shining a light on ways to improve and strengthen the current bill and in giving greater urgency and ambition to our collective efforts to tackle a problem that blights too many households in too many communities across the country.

It will be a surprise to nobody that I intend to focus my remarks on how we might use the bill to address more effectively the issue as it affects rural and island areas—a theme to which Kenneth Gibson and I gave a good and regular airing at committee.

First, it is worth reflecting on why this bill matters so much and why it is essential that we show more ambition in what we are seeking to achieve. As the Existing Homes Alliance Scotland reminds us, the benefits of reducing fuel poverty go far beyond simply removing the need for people to choose between heating their home or eating a meal. All the evidence shows that lifting people out of fuel poverty helps to improve their physical and mental health. Unsurprisingly, living in a warm and dry home also helps to increase educational attainment. Local jobs are created and skills are enhanced in the energy efficiency and low-carbon heat industries, while households have greater energy security and money to spend. Our ambitions for tackling climate change rely on us making progress on improving the energy efficiency of our housing stock. For all those reasons and more, the bill matters.

It matters, of course, to communities throughout Scotland; few, if any, are immune from fuel poverty. That said, rural and island areas are disproportionately affected, with Orkney suffering the dubious honour of having the highest proportion of households in fuel poverty and extreme fuel poverty in Scotland. It is an honour that we are keen to relinquish, but it underscores the particular importance of the bill and the fuel poverty strategy, and the need to recognise and take specific steps to address fuel poverty in remote, rural and island communities.

Although the change in definition contained in the bill makes sense, as things stand the bill does not adequately take into account the additional costs associated with living in remote and rural areas of Scotland. Indeed, the bill ignores key recommendations from the Government’s own rural fuel poverty task force, ably chaired by Di Alexander, whose evidence to the committee on the matter was compelling. He set out in clear and cogent terms the rationale for using a separate minimum income standard for remote rural and island areas that reflects the additional costs that are borne by those living in such communities. It was a view shared by most of those who gave evidence to the committee on that part of the bill, and also universally supported by every council, housing association and fuel poverty group in the Highlands and Islands. The case is unanswerable, and I welcome the fact that the committee recognised that. I also welcome the minister’s willingness in recent months to engage with me and others in a bid to find a solution.

The minister’s commitment to undertaking an islands impact assessment is welcome in relation to not only this bill but, I hope, the future strategy as well. I welcome, too, his commitment to an appropriate uplift for rural and island areas. I look forward to seeing the detail of that, and I agree with Di Alexander that there is a strong case for two separate uplifts, reflecting the additional costs that are associated with living on an island. He is also right in saying that we must find a robust, independent way of assessing the appropriate level of uplift now and into the future. Professor Hirsch and the team at Loughborough University seem to be key to achieving that, but that must be enshrined in legislation, and I look forward to seeing what work can be progressed in that area at stage 2.

Review and redesign of fuel poverty proxies, which tend to be urban oriented, are also needed and should be independent of Government. In the meantime, it is encouraging to see a consensus around the need to distinguish between fuel poverty and extreme fuel poverty. Despite the best intentions of successive Administrations, there has been a collective failure to make a meaningful impact on behalf of those in most need. That must change, and I support the call for a separate target for eliminating extreme fuel poverty by 2024.

On targets generally, there are concerns about what is seen as a lack of ambition in the bill. Energy Action Scotland suggests that the 2040 date is

“effectively a whole generation away, and feels like ‘out of sight, out of mind’”.

The Existing Homes Alliance Scotland also points out that reducing fuel poverty from 24 per cent today to 5 per cent by 2040 represents a reduction of around 1 per cent a year. That hardly feels like the level of ambition that we should be showing, and it would potentially condemn 140,000 households to remaining in fuel poverty until 2040. So, again, I support calls to bring forward the deadline, if not to 2032, then certainly to earlier than 2040.

In addition, the proposal for statutory interim targets makes sense, as do calls for changes to the household condition survey, which will give us early indications of where the strategy is and is not working, so that we can make changes.

I welcome the committee’s call to see steps taken to ensure that progress is made by every local authority in Scotland. Although it might be impossible to ensure an entirely even rate of progress across the board, we cannot target investment and effort at areas with larger populations in a bid to hit the numbers rather than at communities where the need is greater.

Will the member take an intervention?

Extremely quickly.

Mr McArthur already knows that we spend three times more per head of population in the islands than we do in mainland authorities. That is something that the Government has continued to do, recognising the differences that exist. It is—

“Extremely quickly” means quickly, minister.

It is wrong simply to focus on that urban element.

I do not dispute the fact that additional investment is made but, in a sense, the levels of fuel poverty need to be brought down across the board and consistently, and the expectations of people in island and rural areas are every bit as legitimate as those of people living in urban areas.

I see no good reason why the advisory panel should not be put on a statutory basis, ensuring robust, independent and effective advice to ministers and the wider policy-making process.

Although this bill is narrower in scope than the warm homes bill that was originally promised, it has the potential to make a real difference to the lives of people across this country. As Parliament embarks on stage 2 consideration of the bill, we should resist the temptation to play safe, to build in wiggle room or to keep kicking the can down the road. We have an opportunity to be ambitious, to be bold and to eradicate the scourge of fuel poverty in this country. I look forward to working with the minister and colleagues across the chamber to that end, and we will support the bill at decision time this evening.

We move to the open debate. You might have noticed that there have been a lot of interventions, some of them quite lengthy. That means that I have no spare time left, so I ask for speeches of six minutes.

15:58  

I am pleased to have been called to speak, not least as I have the pleasure of being a member of the Local Government and Communities Committee, which recently completed its scrutiny of the bill at stage 1.

At the outset, I remind everyone that Scotland is an energy-rich nation, yet we still see many of our citizens living in fuel poverty. That is as unacceptable as it is absurd. However, I note that, in terms of Government interventions, two of the key drivers of fuel poverty—energy prices and household incomes—fall broadly within the powers of the Westminster Parliament, not our Scottish Parliament, which is a situation that the unionist parties are, sadly, content to see continue.

Does Annabelle Ewing accept that the minimum income standard relates to net incomes and, while everyone’s income differs, the difference between gross and net incomes is considerable and could be substantially affected by devolved powers?

I hear what Mr Wightman says, but as I said in an intervention, national insurance, for example, does not fall within the jurisdiction of this place and this Parliament has control over only 15 per cent of the total expenditure on social security—to name but two issues. I think that Mr Wightman would accept that this Parliament does not have all the economic levers that impact on individual household incomes. Nonetheless, we are determined to place Scotland among the best in the world in seeking to tackle fuel poverty. To secure that laudable and ambitious objective, the bill sets forth both a target for the reduction of fuel poverty and an expressed definition of fuel poverty. In that respect, it is worth noting that

“Scotland is one of only a handful of European countries”

to define fuel poverty.

As we have heard, the target is to reduce fuel poverty to no more than 5 per cent of households in Scotland by 2040. As the convener said, the committee considered that the 5 per cent target struck

“an appropriate balance between realism and ambition”

and in so doing, it recognised both the limited powers of the devolution settlement and the fact that individual households move in and out of fuel poverty as a result of changing circumstances.

However, I do welcome—in his response to the committee’s stage 1 report—the minister’s recognition of the need to work in the long term for

“the eradication of fuel poverty”

to the extent that that “is realistically possible”.

As regards the period within which the target is to be achieved, it is worth noting, as has been mentioned, that there were differing views from those who gave evidence to the committee. While some people favoured the 2040 date, recognising, among other things—as I said in an intervention—that achieving the target will rely on emerging technologies that are still in development, others took the view that the time period was too long. That now seems to include the secret views of fellow committee member Mr Simpson. Therefore, it is to be welcomed that the minister has responded favourably to the committee’s concerns and has agreed to introduce amendments at stage 2 to put interim targets in the bill. As the minister said, those will be that, by 2030, the fuel poverty rate is to be no more than 15 per cent and the median fuel poverty gap is to be no more than £350 in 2015 prices, before inflation.

The revised definition of fuel poverty, based around the minimum income standard, that is set out in the bill was broadly welcomed, with the key discussions concerning the introduction of an uplift to the MIS to reflect the higher costs for those living on islands, in remote small towns and remote rural areas. I am pleased that the minister also listened to the committee on that important point and has confirmed that options as to how to achieve that objective are being considered. That is also the case with regard to the committee’s calls to set a separate target for tackling extreme fuel poverty, which is defined as spending more than 20 per cent of one’s income on fuel.

Given the position of many of my constituents in Cowdenbeath, I am also pleased to note that, although the age vulnerability threshold has been raised from 60 years of age to 75, nonetheless, those with disabilities and long-term illnesses will be recognised as needing enhanced heating. That recognition will capture a significant number of those in the 60 to 75 age cohort.

A draft fuel strategy has been published alongside the bill and, at this stage, is a work in progress. It is important that the Government proceeds to develop the strategy with the fullest engagement, not just with representative organisations, but with individuals who have experience of living in fuel poverty. That would ensure that the pivotal role that the fuel strategy will play in delivery can be secured.

In closing my remarks, it is important to recall that this is a framework bill and must be seen in the context of the suite of measures concerning energy efficiency and carbon emissions reductions that are planned or are in the pipeline. Working across portfolios is the only way to tackle both fuel poverty and climate change and to ensure that people can heat their homes affordably and with low-carbon heating technologies.

With the bill, we have an opportunity to reset the agenda and to make a real difference to the lives of not just my constituents in Cowdenbeath, but citizens around Scotland.

I am pleased to support the Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill.

16:04  

I remind members of my entry in the register of members’ interests in relation to energy efficiency. As my colleague Graham Simpson noted in his opening speech, this is an important bill for Scotland, but in its current form it fails to outline how the Scottish Government will be held accountable if it does not meet the target.

Scotland has always been a country with great ambition, but right now the SNP Government is failing us with these targets. We are not alone in our thinking that the bill’s focus is too narrow. The Existing Homes Alliance Scotland said that the scope should be widened to help to improve energy efficiency and to support the achievement of warm, affordable, low-carbon homes for everyone.

Members across the chamber will remember that last May, an amendment of mine was successfully passed with the support of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. That sought to set the target of all homes reaching an EPC C rating, where feasibly possible, by no later than 2030, as opposed to the current target date of 2040.

At this time, the Scottish Government has failed to honour the will of the Scottish Parliament and is pushing ahead with the 2040 target instead. It might come as a surprise to SNP members, but we want to work with them to achieve ambitious but attainable targets.

It is not just the target date that we want to see improved; we also wish to see a review of the method by which EPCs are produced. In December last year, a Common Weal article stated that the method is fundamentally flawed, particularly due to the reliance on using modelled energy-consumption data rather than measured data. Just recently, a constituent was in touch about two EPC assessments that had been carried out for them within two years, by the same contractor, with completely different outcomes. Either we need to see a review of how EPCs are produced, or an alternative is needed to ensure that they are more accurate and standardised.

As the Common Weal article mentions, if a household is under or overestimated on their energy consumption by an inaccurate EPC rating, residents either face higher than expected energy bills, or it deters them from making behavioural changes and investing in making energy efficiency improvements.

As an MSP who represents a rural area, I must also add my concerns that the bill does not consider the added costs for people living in rural communities. I was pleased to see in the committee’s report that that was requested of the Scottish Government. I hope that it will be acted on, as we heard the minister talk about it in his opening speech.

The minimum income standard is another important yet contentious point. A review is required for a Scotland-specific version, which would consider remote and rural households, but we must also take into account concerns such as those raised by the Scottish older people’s assembly that the new definition is likely to result in fewer households with older people being considered fuel poor. While I wish to see rural communities protected, that should not be to the detriment of other sections of society.

Herein lies the difficulty with the 5 per cent target. Yes, it is a great start, but it means that there is a risk of leaving in fuel poverty those who are at most need, such as the vulnerable in society, and rural communities. Therefore, I join my colleagues in calling for a separate target looking to eradicate extreme fuel poverty, to ensure that those who are hardest to reach are not left in the 5 per cent bracket. I would also be keen to see each local authority with its own 5 per cent target, so that no area of Scotland is disadvantaged by a national average that is weighted in favour of the predominantly urban central belt.

Will the member take an intervention?

No, I will not. I have a number of points to make.

While the bill brings about lots of good action points on how to reduce fuel poverty, I am concerned that the financial memorandum does not estimate the cost of eradicating fuel poverty. Surely the bill should allocate extra costs in order to tackle the issue. If the Scottish Government does not even think that the bill merits additional funding in order to achieve its goals, that shows exactly why it is not going far enough. The committee reported that it was surprised that, while the Government provided estimated costing for meeting climate change targets, it chose not to take the same approach for this bill.

Will the member take an intervention?

I will not, as the minister also has a closing speech. I recognise the points that he made in response to the committee’s report and we look forward to seeing them when they materialise.

The Scottish Conservatives’ proposal is to invest up to 10 per cent of the Scottish Government’s capital budget allocations in energy efficiency measures. That policy would make more homes warmer, eradicate fuel poverty at a greater rate and reduce carbon emissions faster than the SNP proposals, all while growing businesses and the economy across the whole of Scotland.

While this bill is a step in the right direction and we fully support its principles, it still needs to do more. At this stage, my colleagues and I look to support the bill, but we wish to continue working with members across the chamber to ensure that it can be strengthened.

16:10  

As other members have mentioned, fuel poverty remains a significant problem throughout Scotland, despite the £1 billion investment that SNP Governments in past sessions of the Parliament have committed to energy efficiency measures to deal with it.

I make no apology for pointing to the particular problems that face my constituency and, I am sure, other island constituencies. In 2016, the rate of fuel poverty in the Western Isles was calculated at 56 per cent, according to the Scottish housing condition survey. Some of the reasons for that are obvious: the wind-chill factor, which is not recognised in the system of cold weather payments; the ageing population; and the preponderance of detached houses. Perhaps as significant as anything else, however, is the unavailability of mains gas anywhere in the islands except in one relatively small area of the town of Stornoway.

Neither is history irrelevant here. In the 1930s and 1940s, Government assistance was aimed at getting people out of thatched black houses. That resulted in a generation of self-built houses made of poured concrete, which was generally mixed with shingle from island beaches to form walls with no cavities. Another wave of kit house building took place in the 1970s and 1980s. In short, few of the houses that were built in the islands in the greater part of the 20th century are anything like thermally efficient.

On the face of it, many people in such a situation may be home owners. However, as often as not, the reality in the islands is that they might own the house but not the land underneath it—a feature of crofting tenure that is too complicated to explain to virtually any building society, which means that many people live in houses that they simply cannot afford to repair. Then there are all the usual problems with which people have to contend, and which are by no means specific to the islands: low incomes; the roll-out of universal credit; a shortage of affordable rented housing; and, above all, the spiralling cost of energy over the past 15 years or so, which the minister has pointed out. I see from the Local Government and Communities Committee’s report that its members saw all those problems for themselves at first hand when they visited my constituency recently. I very much welcome their having done so.

I warmly commend, too, the minister’s commitment today to recognise rural—and perhaps specifically island—factors in the future and the fact that the bill will be subject to an island communities impact assessment. I hope that, in his closing remarks, the minister will say whether the strategy following the bill will be subject to a similar island-proofing process and which distinctive island factors it might be possible to recognise in our future policy on fuel poverty.

For example, I hope that, as has been indicated today, in defining an acceptable standard of living once fuel costs are met, there might be room to take account of the extra costs that are involved in living in an island area. Not least among those is that, in many island areas, it is simply not a realistic option not to have a car. Many people in island communities would consider themselves unable to afford a car if they lived elsewhere but feel that they have no choice but to have one if they wish to look for work—and that is before higher food, petrol and other prices are considered.

There are other factors that people in most parts of Scotland—both rural and urban—take for granted. Most Scots can easily visit a relative in hospital who has suddenly been taken seriously ill, or go to a funeral in another part of the country. In the islands, because plane fares go up exponentially if bought a day or two before travel, making such a visit can often cost as much as going on a foreign holiday.

It is right that the Parliament is held responsible for the factors that are within our control. Of those, the major investments in energy efficiency, particularly in older people’s houses, should be recognised and welcomed. However, as other members have mentioned, it is also right that we scrutinise areas that are outwith our devolved control, such as the significant rise in the cost of fuel in recent years, and the fuel poverty that is directly traceable to changes in the benefits system.

I end, however, by expressing a hope that island proofing will come to recognise another specific problem that all off-grid areas have. Why are the energy efficiency ratings that are used on EPCs measured in pounds sterling and not in kilowatts of energy used per square metre? By definition, being off the gas grid makes costs higher, but it says little about the energy efficiency of the building. The result is often that, compared with people who are on grid, home owners in off-grid areas face an impossible task in getting to band C.

All that said, I very much welcome the bill and the Government’s clear commitment to making it work in the islands and across Scotland to tackle what remains, despite substantial and welcome efforts by the Scottish Government, one of the single biggest problems that my constituents face.

16:15  

I start by declaring an interest as one of the honorary vice-presidents of Energy Action Scotland.

As the minister in the first Labour-led Scottish Government who was responsible for establishing the fuel poverty target, I am pleased to take part in this debate. Members will perhaps forgive me if I therefore look back, because I think that we can always learn from history.

It was section 88 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 that committed Scottish ministers to ensuring that, by November 2016,

“so far as reasonably practicable, ... persons do not live in fuel poverty”.

That was an ambitious target and one on which all parties across the Parliament agreed. Indeed, Stewart Maxwell, who served as the SNP Minister for Communities and Sport from 2007, said:

“We signed up enthusiastically to the previous Administration’s target, which was bold when it was established in 2001.”—[Official Report, 13 March 2008; c 6914.]

That was the right thing to do, and successor Administrations agreed. We do not often find issues that transcend the political divide, so it is disappointing that, with that level of consensus, we singularly failed to meet the target.

Where did it go wrong? Back in March 2008, speakers in a members’ business debate on fuel poverty thought that the target was tough but achievable. Later that year, Nicola Sturgeon, as Deputy First Minister, reconvened the Scottish fuel poverty forum to advise ministers on how to refocus the policy and better use the resources that were available to achieve the target. We were all still talking about eradicating fuel poverty and achieving the target. Of course, there were increases in fuel prices and factors that we did not entirely control, but we did not think that that was a barrier to doing all that we could to achieve the target. Not one SNP member or member of another party in the Parliament raised that as an issue when we set the original target.

Three years later, in 2011, five years before the target date, members of the Scottish fuel poverty forum were telling anyone who would listen to them, from ministers to parliamentary committees, that unless there was a substantial increase in resource, we would fail to meet the 2016 target. The spending level back in 2012-13 was £65 million. Following its budget scrutiny, the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee believed that the budget needed to be of the order of £100 million to £170 million per year if we were to succeed in eradicating fuel poverty. Unfortunately, the Government decided that it knew better. In budget after budget, Opposition members made the point. I recall Patrick Harvie bringing down the budget one year on this very point. In some years, there were even underspends, but the sums fell well short of what was required. By 2012, few people believed that the target could be met and ministers did little to try to change that.

As we have heard, the increase in energy prices was not a de minimis increase but an increase of 158 per cent. Is the member trying to suggest that that had no impact at all on the issue?

I am not suggesting that, but we ignored the fact that the increase had had an impact and we failed to address what we then needed to do to recalibrate in order to meet the target. It is not good enough to say that it is somebody’s else’s fault and do nothing to try to change that.

On reflection, I am clear that we need to start with an ambitious target, to have a route map for how to achieve it and to monitor implementation closely. We also need to have enough money in the budget to realise our ambitions, to have parliamentary ownership and maybe even to have some independent oversight so that ministers’ feet are held to the fire when necessary.

The bill’s target of taking fuel poverty down to 5 per cent by 2040 is lacking in ambition. Taking the number of fuel poor down between now and that target date means a reduction of 1 per cent a year, which makes a snail’s pace look fast and condemns another generation to fuel poverty. The target should be 2032. Changing the definition is also very troubling. The Scottish Government has changed its methodology and analysis at least four or five times and on each occasion more people in fuel poverty got measured out. With the greatest respect, redefining fuel poverty or changing the methodology to simply take people out of the equation fiddles the figures while Rome burns.

That is nonsense.

It is not nonsense.

People tell me that pensioners and people living in rural areas suffer most from fuel poverty, but the Scottish Government has moved the qualifying age from 60, where it currently is, to 75. The minister will be aware that many people in Scotland, particularly those in disadvantaged areas, do not reach the age of 75, but they still live in acute fuel poverty. At stage 1, the minister said that he would consult on that in bringing forward regulations, but we should know now what the Government’s intentions are. I am interested to know whether he would rule out shifting the qualifying age as high as 75.

Other members have touched on minimum income standards, and I agree with Andy Wightman’s comments in that regard. I will spend the short time remaining to me to talk about monitoring. Parliament must, of course, have an active role, but I suggest to the minister that, rather than having the Scottish fuel poverty advisory forum on an ad hoc basis, it should be given statutory underpinning and be independent of ministers. I listened carefully to what the minister said, but I am not persuaded by his argument. We should give the forum the tools and the teeth to do its job.

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to alleviate and eradicate fuel poverty. I welcome the steps that are being taken in the bill, but there is an opportunity to do so much more. When this Parliament was created, it seized those opportunities to be bold and ambitious, to change the policy landscape and to be positive about the future for the people of Scotland. Twenty years on, we should not be timid about this or condemn another generation to having to choose between heating and eating. We should seize the opportunity to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland.

16:22  

My region of the Highlands and Islands is where fuel poverty, by any reasonable definition, is most pronounced. As many members will be aware, a number of factors contribute to the problems that the region faces in that regard, including a slightly less hospitable climate in some seasons, the limitations of the mains gas network, the wider economic challenges of the region and an ageing population. When considered against the backdrop of higher living costs in less densely populated areas—a problem that the region shares with other remote and rural parts of Scotland—fuel poverty clearly has a regional element to it and is an issue of particular relevance to my constituents.

I will illustrate that with some examples. Orkney Islands Council and Western Isles Council have the sorry record of being the local authorities in Scotland where over 50 per cent of households are in fuel poverty under the current definition. The five local authorities with the highest proportion of households without mains gas are all in the Highlands and Islands, and those councils also find themselves near the bottom of the table for energy efficiency measures. Setting aside the island authorities, which have their own particular needs, it is the Highland Council and Moray Council areas that experience the highest levels of fuel poverty in mainland Scotland.

Will the member take an intervention?

I would like to get on.

Where levels of fuel poverty are that high, fuel poverty can become less visible. Many people in those communities—particularly older people—would not immediately identify themselves as being in fuel poverty, regardless of where statistical definitions place them. High energy costs and lower disposable incomes can often be treated as a fact of life. Policy makers may think that that makes them a less pressing problem, but individuals, families and the wider economy are impacted just the same. Individuals are left making the same unpleasant and undesirable trade-offs in order to heat their homes adequately.

Before I turn to some of the conclusions of the stage 1 report, I extend my thanks to the committee for a comprehensive and informative piece of work. The report identifies and notes a number of the localised concerns that I have raised.

One area that the committee was right to highlight is extreme fuel poverty. As members have observed, there is a risk that targets at a national or even a local authority level could create perverse outcomes whereby the low-hanging fruit are tackled first while those in the greatest need are abandoned. I therefore welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to lodge stage 2 amendments. We will look at them in some detail.

The committee’s report quotes from the evidence of Alasdair Calder of Argyll and Bute Council, who spoke about the need to avoid a situation in which the 5 per cent of homes still in fuel poverty in 2040 are all located either on the islands or in rural areas in his council area. It is a question not simply of deprioritising the worst cases but of failing to address areas whose geography makes them more difficult and potentially more expensive to reach.

The committee also addressed local issues with the use of the minimum income standard. The fact that remote and rural areas have particular problems is not controversial, but the Scottish Government’s early conclusions that those problems will be accounted for in the MIS and that the additional costs of gathering better data would be prohibitive seem to have been largely contradicted by the committee’s evidence. I therefore welcome the minister’s comments about the islands MIS. He assured the committee that he would

“look seriously at ... an uplift ... for remote rural areas”.—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 19 December 2018; c 3.]

I am pleased that he appears to have done so, but it is important that his assessments be scrutinised effectively by Parliament. If he wants to build cross-party support, that work needs to be undertaken seriously, because such changes are not to be taken lightly.

Let us consider the relative impact of the proposals. The number of older households in fuel poverty will be deemed to have fallen by 137,000 at the stroke of a pen, while some 60,000 people with a long-term sickness or disability will be removed from the statistics. Many people who are removed from the fuel poverty statistics will be in my region. Unsurprisingly, that has caused local organisations alarm, and I have heard from housing associations, local authorities and individuals on the point. It is important not to send a message to people in rural Scotland that we think their problems have been solved even though their circumstances remain the same.

I also welcome the Government’s commitment to carrying out an islands impact assessment on various aspects of the bill, which is important to meeting its commitment to the islands. In a policy area in which the islands are so clearly distinct from mainland Scotland, it is extremely important that that process be undertaken and that it command the confidence of those communities.

Like other members, I express disappointment about the bill’s downgrading from a more rounded warm homes bill, which represents a missed opportunity to take a comprehensive approach to tackling the issues. Unfortunately, the Scottish Government’s efforts have often appeared—at least to Conservative members—to be unfocused. Major policies such as the creation of a publicly owned energy company seem to have been created as soundbites first, with key details and direction to be ironed out later.

There is a pressing need to further address energy efficiency and its considerable regional disparities. It is welcome that the Government is willing to move on the bill, and I will join Scottish Conservative colleagues in seeking to strengthen it, but I emphasise that the issues raised by the committee must be considered seriously if ministers want wider support.

16:28  

As a member of the Local Government and Communities Committee, I was pleased to work with colleagues on our stage 1 report on this important bill, which has the potential to have a hugely positive impact on the lives of thousands of households across Scotland.

In 2017, a quarter of Scottish households—613,000—were classified as living in fuel poverty. The previous Scottish Executive had hoped to eliminate fuel poverty, but, despite its best intentions and those of its successors, its efforts were stymied by increases in fuel prices, over which it had no control: they rose by 155 per cent while wages grew by 38 per cent. That was highlighted by the £110 increase in the default tariff 13 days ago, which Pauline McNeill mentioned.

The bill’s principal aims are to set out a new target for a dramatic reduction in fuel poverty that is both ambitious and achievable; to introduce a new definition of fuel poverty so that support can reach those who need it most; to produce a new long-term fuel poverty strategy; and to oblige the Scottish ministers to publish reports and lay them before Parliament every five years. Stakeholders have agreed that enshrining a target in legislation will provide a clear end point against which to measure progress.

Some people may ask why the aim is not to completely eradicate fuel poverty. The 5 per cent target takes into account the Scottish Government’s limited influence over two of the four main drivers of fuel poverty: household income and energy costs. Another factor is the transient nature of fuel poverty, because some households move in and out of the definition due to circumstances that, again, this Government cannot control.

Setting a realistic target for 2040—I understood that all the committee members agreed to that; there was certainly no dissent in the report—while laying the groundwork with a sustainable and well-designed long-term strategy provides an opportunity to reduce fuel poverty even further.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government has agreed to enshrine interim target milestones in the bill at stage 2 so that we can assess how well the strategy is working.

Kenneth Gibson has been an MSP for quite some time and will be well aware that, although committee members do their best to produce reports that we all agree represent the will of the committee, that does not mean that members of various parties do not take a different view when it comes to stage 1 debates, stage 2 amendments or stage 3 debates. He seems to insinuate that we should not be doing that.

No—what I am saying is that, to my understanding, all seven members of the committee agreed to the 2040 date without a scintilla of dissent, yet some of them have come to today’s debate pretending that they supported the date of 2032 all along. That is fundamentally dishonest. If someone is against something in a committee’s report, they should dissent from it. For example, Andy Wightman’s colleague on the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee dissented when six other MSPs supported a view and another two MSPs abstained. That is how to do it. Members should not say, “Oh aye, 2040 is great,” then come to the chamber and say that that date is not radical enough—that is dishonest. I disagree with Andy Wightman on that.

Our evidence taking was not limited to hearing views in this building. Members visited Dundee and the Western Isles to hear at first hand from people about their lived experience of fuel poverty.

On Lewis, we heard from a woman who had three part-time jobs and relied on her credit card just to get by. Her traditional single-skin breeze-block cottage had a wood-burning stove and storage heaters. She was not on the gas grid, which is limited to Stornoway, as Alasdair Allan said. She left the island for work and rented out her home, and, on her return, the house was in a poor condition because the tenants could not afford to heat it. The result was damaged white goods and dampness in the walls. However, the woman received excellent support from local organisation Tighean Innse Gall, which arranged for external wall insulation. That remedied a situation that was quickly becoming unbearable for her.

We also heard from a man who lived in a 100-year-old croft house with thick stone walls and small windows. He reported that, once he had cavity wall insulation and new storage heaters, it felt like a new home, and those measures made a significant difference to his fuel bills. The experiences that were shared by people in fuel poverty demonstrated the harsh reality of being fuel poor and reaffirmed the committee’s view that the proposed legislation is essential.

We know that fuel bills are generally higher in island communities—not just in the Western Isles but on Arran and Cumbrae, in my constituency, and on other islands. That can be for a variety of reasons, including a lack of connection to the gas grid, increased exposure to wind and weather, overreliance on electricity and unregulated fuel types, and the presence of older, hard-to-heat homes.

As we have heard, the starkest disparity between regions is between the Orkney Islands, where 58.7 per cent of households are in fuel poverty, and Edinburgh, which has the lowest proportion—20.1 per cent—of such households. That is why, although the committee welcomes the revised definition of fuel poverty that is set out in the bill, which is based around the calculation of a minimum income standard that takes account of daily living costs, the MIS definition may not adequately take into account the reality of living on islands or in remote rural areas that are disproportionately affected by fuel poverty. Therefore, I welcome the minister’s commitment to an additional minimum income standard ahead of stage 2, as well as his commitment to publishing an islands assessment by the end of April.

Delivering a meaningful reduction in fuel poverty requires a concerted effort from everyone, including local government, businesses, the third sector, landlords, tenants and home owners.

No legislation exists in a vacuum, and this bill intersects with the aims on climate change, the new energy efficient Scotland programme, the energy efficiency route map and the draft fuel poverty strategy that is mandated by the bill. That suite of policies will reduce fuel poverty and improve home energy efficiency while reducing carbon emissions. Indeed, by the end of 2021, this Government will have allocated more than £1 billion since 2009 to tackling fuel poverty and improving energy efficiency. Jackie Baillie talked about £65 million being invested in 2012, but £113 million was invested last year, so there has been a significant increase in investment despite a challenging financial situation for this Government.

Jackie Baillie rose—

If Jackie Baillie had intervened earlier, I would have taken her intervention, but I am now over my time.

By achieving our challenging target of reducing fuel poverty to 5 per cent, we will not only be one of just a handful of countries around the world to do so, but, more important, we will draw ever closer to a fairer Scotland where nobody is forced to choose between eating and heating.

16:34  

This has been a significant stage 1 debate in which many important issues have been highlighted by members across the chamber. As colleagues have done, I welcome the bill.

It occurs to me that Parliament has countless times denounced fuel poverty as Scotland’s shame, yet hundreds of thousands of households still battle against its effects. It is unacceptable that people across Scotland sit down of an evening and weigh up whether they should warm their homes or fill their stomachs.

Liam McArthur stressed the range of health and education downsides of living in fuel poverty. How is an elderly person to protect their health in a draughty room? How is a child to excel at school when their home is distractingly cold? How can a carer support their loved one in a home that has pitiful insulation? I remind Parliament that our right to adequate housing is enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We clearly feel the changing seasons in Scotland, so “adequate” here must mean “warm”.

As Jackie Baillie stressed, there was consensus about eradicating fuel poverty by 2016. Her historical analysis was chilling. Where is the recalibration that is needed? To its eternal shame, the Scottish Government has not done enough on that.

Will the member take an intervention on that point?

I will not. I have made the point and so did Jackie Baillie. It has been well made.

We now have a bill on fuel poverty, but I share the serious concerns of my colleagues that the 5 per cent of households that will be left in fuel poverty will be those that are most difficult to tackle, and which have already suffered for decades. I therefore welcome the minister’s commitment to producing a definition of “extreme fuel poverty”.

The Existing Homes Alliance Scotland is a broad and significant coalition. It has stressed—and I quote—

“the need to take the higher cost of remote and rural living into account.”

Frankly, it is a relief that the stage 1 report recognises that the new definition that is proposed in the bill does not adequately take that into account. I strongly welcome the minister’s commitment to lodging an amendment on rural living at stage 2. It is vital that we ensure that there is an uplift for rural dwellers. That the bill will be island proofed—which has been committed to by the minister today and the need for which was previously stressed by Liam McArthur, Alasdair Allan and others—is vital.

As an MSP for South Scotland, I am keenly aware of the challenges that are faced by people who live in rural fuel poverty, who are often off-grid and living in hard-to-heat old stone houses. The Scottish Government might consider how help could be given to collective or co-operative rural support. That could be part of the strategy, if it is not to be in the bill, especially in relation to low-carbon energy solutions such as biomass.

More widely beyond the bill, co-operative and mutual models of energy production, distribution and sale have a role to play in tackling fuel poverty. When Britain’s energy system is not working for consumers, those models are means by which to empower fuel-poor, disadvantaged and excluded communities. I accept that that involves reserved issues.

However, Pauline McNeill highlighted the problems that exist for larger families who can see their annual bills rise by up to £184 per year. The market might be broken, thanks to a combination of lack of competition, which results in market dominance by a small number of large vertically integrated companies, unsustainable and short-term decision making by big business, and housing stock that ranks among the least energy efficient in Europe.

However, consumer, local government, community and employee ownership models have been shown to offer behavioural benefits, as people show more consideration of their own energy use. The models also offer economic benefits by helping with job creation and with returns from them remaining in the locality through reinvestment.

We need a fuel poverty bill, for sure—for the sake of people’s health, wellbeing and financial equality, and for the sake of our efforts to tackle climate change. The narrow scope of the bill means that it will not deliver specifically on lowering climate change emissions from housing. However, I welcome the minister’s commitment to finding the way forward, with COSLA and the committee, on reporting duties that would run in parallel with the current climate change reporting duty.

In her opening remarks for Scottish Labour, my colleague Pauline McNeill explored the private rented sector. There has long been concern about homes in which the opportunity to improve energy efficiency does not lie wholly in the hands of residents—for example, in the private rented sector. I welcome the work of the Scottish Parliament’s working group on tenement maintenance, of which energy efficiency in common improvements is an important part.

I highlight that I tried in 2014 to amend the Housing (Scotland) Bill at stages 2 and 3 to add a duty to make provision for energy efficiency standards in the repairing standard, but the Scottish Government did not support that. At that time, I withdrew my amendments on the understanding that the issue would be tackled with other energy efficiency concerns. The issue is complex, but I hope that that will not be used as an excuse to avoid tackling it. Stage 2 and beyond should be seen as an opportunity.

I hope that the Scottish Government will engage with those of us who are keen to address multi-occupancy and the private rented sector. I understand that members across the parties are keen to do that.

Scottish Labour welcomes the bill and supports its general principles, but there is a lot of room for improvement. The minister has acknowledged that, on the basis of the Local Government and Communities Committee’s report. However, in the view of Scottish Labour, we still have a considerable way to go.

16:40  

I am pleased to have the opportunity to close this stage 1 debate on the Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill for the Scottish Conservatives.

Our manifesto in advance of the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections made it clear that the Scottish Conservatives are committed to ensuring that no one lives in a hard-to-heat home, and to reducing fuel poverty. We are therefore happy to support the broad principles of the bill.

More specifically, we pledged to make the case to transform investment in the energy efficiency of homes across Scotland. We suggested that that could be done by investing up to 10 per cent of the Scottish Government’s capital budget allocations in energy efficiency measures. That could lead to thousands of jobs across Scotland, make homes easier to heat, and reduce energy bills and carbon emissions. The bill is certainly needed at this time to tackle that issue, which is driven by a complex combination of energy costs, energy efficiency, household incomes and energy use.

At present, a quarter of households in Scotland live in fuel poverty. We have heard that today, and we have also talked about rural and island communities. The convener of the Local Government and Communities Committee, James Dornan, commented on that. I am delighted that Kevin Stewart will lodge amendments at stage 2 to cover issues in our rural and island communities.

It has been a real privilege, as a member of the Local Government and Communities Committee, to have heard from groups, individuals and organisations that have ensured that we have heard their views and opinions. Prior to the debate, many members received useful briefings that gave those views and opinions.

Previous attempts by successive Governments to address the issue have been unsuccessful. We heard from Jackie Baillie about what the target that was set out back in 2002 attempted to do, and that the Government wanted to ensure that it was reached by 2016. We have heard that, for various reasons, that did not happen.

It is important that the Local Government and Communities Committee and communities across civic Scotland support the bill because they see the need for things to happen. However, the bill does not include any accountability mechanisms. That was one of the key flaws in the 2016 target. In other words, consequences are needed for the Scottish Government if there is failure to meet the targets in the bill, otherwise the ambitions will not be met and we will simply end up with simple and meaningless propositions.

Will the member give way?

I would like to make progress.

I do not want targets not to be met. We want to ensure that the bill is successful, so there will need to be amendments and changes to it.

It is disappointing that interim targets are not set out. That was talked about in the draft fuel poverty strategy. The committee and stakeholders who responded to the consultation made clear their support for the statutory underpinning of such milestones—indeed, the committee requires them to support the target date of 2040. I note that the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning has proposed to lodge amendments at stage 2. As I said earlier, I welcome that. We need them to ensure that that happens.

By using a nationwide target, the bill could ensure that there are regional disparities. The committee suggested that the Scottish Government amend section 1 and put in place for each local authority statutory targets to reduce fuel poverty in their areas. That should also be considered.

We have heard from many members this afternoon. Graham Simpson said that the bill should help to eradicate fuel poverty, but it will only set a target, so there is a lack of ambition. The bill is a step in the right direction, but it is a step in the right direction only at this point.

My colleague Alexander Burnett talked about the bill’s focus and the need for the targets to be valid and obtainable. He also spoke about standardisation and the support for rural and remote households.

Many members have made valid contributions to the debate, which shows the depth of feeling about the issue across the chamber and across Scotland. Jamie Halcro Johnston talked about missed opportunities. He said that the rate of fuel poverty is highest in his Highland region and that people need to accept that as a fact of life. Fuel poverty should not be a fact of life for individuals and communities the length and breadth of Scotland.

Pauline McNeill talked about the bill falling short, in that it does not provide the ambition that she and the Labour Party had hoped for. Andy Wightman talked about the unacceptable level of fuel poverty, which we all need to acknowledge. Therefore, it is vital that we look at how we can enhance reporting and support.

Liam McArthur talked about the lack of ambition in addressing the problems in rural and island areas. He talked about the choice between heating a home or eating, which is a fact of life for some people. They are put in that situation.

The Scottish Conservatives are committed to tackling fuel poverty and to reducing the level of overall carbon emissions. As I have indicated, although we support the general principles of the bill, a number of important changes are required. We shall support the bill at stage 1, but we will lodge amendments that will strengthen the bill at stages 2 and 3. That is the right thing to do, and we should ensure that we all work together to achieve that.

16:46  

As I said at the outset of the debate, the Government is ambitious in its desire to tackle, reduce and, ultimately, eliminate fuel poverty in Scotland. Beyond that, we need to ensure that we reduce the rate of carbon emissions in our country, and we need to move forward in delivering technologies to ensure that that becomes a reality.

The bill is not a stand-alone measure. It goes hand in hand with the carbon reduction bill, which will be introduced to Parliament very shortly, and with the bill that Mr Wheelhouse will introduce on district and local heating strategies.

Beyond those bills, I draw members’ attention to the draft energy strategy and to the energy efficient Scotland pipeline. In the energy efficient Scotland route map, we lay out our ambitious targets on EPC ratings to deal with fuel-poor homes. Fuel-poor homes should reach EPC band C by 2030 and EPC band B by 2040. Those targets will act as a guide for our programmes, to ensure that delivery to fuel-poor households is prioritised.

During the debate, the minister will have heard concerns from a number of members, including Alasdair Allan, about EPC ratings and their effectiveness. Is he willing to look at that issue on a Scotland-wide basis?

Building standards officials are looking at EPC ratings—that is part of the Government’s on-going, day-to-day work. We keep all such matters under review, and I am happy to hear members’ views. I remember receiving Mr Burnett’s letter about his constituent’s situation in relation to EPC assessments. If folk want to feed into the process, I will ensure that their views go to building standards officials so that they can play a part in the work that the officials are doing.

As I have said, this is not a stand-alone bill but part of a suite of legislation and regulation that we must bring forward if we are to do our level best for the people of Scotland. I do not want anyone to live in a fuel-poor household. I remember as a child living in a house that was heated by a two-bar fire in the living room and a Superser heater upstairs, with the bedroom doors open to let the heat get through—

You were lucky!

I was lucky, compared to some.

We had ice forming on the inside of the windows—through no fault of my parents, who were doing their level best. I do not want anybody to live in those circumstances, and I want to move as quickly as we can on these issues, but we have to be realistic about what is deliverable and what can be achieved in certain timescales. I have heard a lot today that differs from the committee report in relation to moving further and faster on some of the targets, but I have not heard anything about how we deliver things quicker or how we achieve that deliverability. I have said time and time again that what we are putting in place is ambitious and deliverable—just—but it is also stretching, and folks who are thinking of lodging amendments to bring targets forward will have to look at how those can be delivered.

The minister has asked the parties to think about how we can deliver that aim, but I ask him to consider the suggestion that I made in my speech. The delivery aspects of the bill could do with a bit more content. If the minister is indeed open minded about accepting amendments on delivering on the detail of reducing fuel poverty, will he consider substantially amending those aspects of the bill?

The delivery aspects are not necessarily in the bill; they relate to delivering the energy efficient Scotland programme, adapting things as we move forward and ensuring that the draft fuel poverty strategy becomes something that works for all. Sometimes in the Scottish Parliament we get a little bit fixated with primary legislation, but it can be very difficult to create primary legislation that focuses on delivery. The documents that I have mentioned and the scrutiny of these matters as we move forward will be extremely important and key to ensuring that we reach the targets to which we aspire.

Will the minister give way?

Very briefly.

Does the minister agree with the importance, as highlighted in my speech, of local energy production and work by co-operatives in not only supporting local jobs but helping people in fuel poverty to tackle the situation?

Absolutely. I believe that if we get progress on the matter absolutely right, we can create jobs. It will be a matter not just of handing jobs to multinational companies, as has happened often in the past, but of local delivery.

The prime example of that can be found in Orkney. When I first came into my post, civil servants told me that Orkney was unable to spend its area-based scheme money. It was suggested that I take the money back, but I did not do that, because I saw that Orkney required more time than other authorities to set up the supply chain and the skills to deliver what it needed.

I would like to see the same kind of thing happen across the country, but if we are pushed to move too quickly on the matter, local authorities might not be able to do what Orkney did and might be pushed into procuring things elsewhere—perhaps from places where Ms Beamish would not want them to be procured. There is absolutely a logic to taking some time to get certain aspects of this right. However, as I have said, if anyone comes forward with a delivery plan that works in bringing targets forward, I will certainly look at it.

Having listened to the committee, I have made some moves on interim targets and minimum income standards that—I am pleased to hear—folk are happy about. One of the key things is the tackling of extreme fuel poverty, and I will without doubt bring forward amendments on that at stage 2.

I will continue to listen. Movement has happened not just because of the committee’s work but because of the engagement between members and me and with stakeholders at large. That will continue as we progress with not just the bill but the energy efficient Scotland programme, the right fuel poverty strategy and the other bills that are to come.

Following Pauline McNeill’s point about access to the available funds—[Interruption.]

I am sorry, Presiding Officer, but I cannot hear Mr McArthur.

Can we have a bit of order in the chamber and fewer conversations, please? Let us listen to Mr McArthur.

Pauline McNeill highlighted some of the difficulties in accessing funds. Some people who live in listed properties find it exceptionally difficult to introduce measures. Will the minister speak to his colleagues to ensure that heritage and fuel poverty objectives are better aligned than they appear to be at present?

I will certainly do that. I am well aware that, in Mr McArthur’s constituency, there are council houses that date back to the Napoleonic era, and those are difficult to deal with.

On Ms McNeill’s point about a joined-up approach, I suggest that everybody talks to home energy Scotland. Its award-winning helpline is absolutely fantastic and it will guide people to the right places and give them the right advice. I am more than willing to speak to Ms McNeill and others about where they think that the difficulties lie for folks in accessing grant and/or loan funding. I want to make that journey as easy as possible for people so, if Pauline McNeill wants that conversation, I am more than happy to have it.

There have been a few myths today, which I need to touch on. Ms Baillie talked about modelling and analysis being changed four or five times and said that each time more households were taken out of fuel poverty. The changes in the modelling and analysis have happened only to reflect the changes to industry standards and energy modelling, and for no other reason at all.

Will the minister take an intervention?

I will take a very brief one, although I really feel that I should not.

When I accused the minister of changing the methodology and analysis, he said that that was nonsense, but he is now admitting that I was right. Will he tell the Parliament that, on each occasion, more people were taken out of fuel poverty, even though their experience continued to be one of being in fuel poverty?

What I said was nonsense was Jackie Baillie’s point that the changes in modelling and analysis took more folk out of fuel poverty—that was the absolute nonsense that Ms Baillie was speaking. She introduced the original bill on fuel poverty, which was the Housing (Scotland) Bill, and perhaps then there was no foresight about possibilities and scrutiny, so she should reflect on that. We need to get this absolutely right.

I will finish with a point that some members have touched on but which seems to have been lost to others. We do not have control over all the levers that lead to fuel poverty. We do not have control of energy prices, although I wish that we did, and we do not have control over incomes. Even though Mr Wightman attempted to say that we have a small amount of leverage in that regard, we do not have the ability to deal with things that the UK Government does, such as the changes in VAT, the poor roll-out of universal credit and the slashing of social security—the list goes on. As a Parliament, we should unite on those issues to ensure that we have control over every aspect of the matter so that we can truly move forward and do our very best for the people of Scotland.

I am grateful to the committee for its efforts. I found it a bit surprising that many speeches today did not reflect the committee’s report. However, we are where we are, and I am grateful to members for sharing their views.

I will continue to listen to members and stakeholders as we move forward to stage 2. I hope that we can do that in a logical fashion, lodging workable amendments that have no unintended consequences.