|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Dafis: I am not getting into that sort of issue. A Conservative Member suggested that the imposition of a levy on electricity or gas bills after the implementation of an energy efficiency programme in a home would be a sensible way of funding the scheme. Whether the levy is 2 per cent. or more, that is a reasonable way of funding it. Savings in bills would amount to 10, 20, or 30 per cent., although some people have suggested that they would amount to even more. An additional levy, therefore, would be more than compensated for by savings in bills.
Column 1374The gathering of information and the drawing up of plans are essential to ensure the cost-efficiency of the programme. Without that basic requirement, such activity could be wasteful, inefficient and hit or miss. The Government and Conservative Members are taking their suspicion of local authorities, bureaucracy and planning to ridiculous lengths. There is nothing wrong with bureaucracy in itself. Of course, we need bureaucrats and people to plan and to ensure that schemes are carried out in an organised way with foresight and understanding. The Government's objections to the Bill are nonsense and always have been. [Interruption.] Yes, they are. This is not a side issue but one of major importance. The Bill is simply common sense.
I shall cite Lord Moore, chairman of the Energy Saving Trust, which the Government claim is one of the main instruments necessary to deliver energy efficiency programmes. He said:
"The Trust strongly supports the primary aim of the Bill which is to place an obligation on all district and borough councils to create an energy use profile of the dwellings within their area . . . This information will be invaluable for all organisations attempting to target energy efficiency programmes . . . The Trust also support the second objective of the Bill which is to place an obligation on the relevant local authorities to draw up an Energy Conservation Plan for their locality, setting out what works would be required in order to achieve a minimum amount of energy savings."
They are the words of one of the people who is supposed really to understand energy conservation.
Mr. Butler: The problem is that the hon. Gentleman wishes to set targets and draw up plans, but that costs a great deal of money, which will then not be available for insulation or other energy efficiency work. Does he recall that in Committee, in answer to a question about whether people would be required to install double glazing, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said:
"The Bill does not contain a requirement but it calls on local authorities to set out what could be achieved by certain levels of energy conservation. No one is required to achieve those levels."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee C , 16 February 1994; c. 25.] In other words, the Bill would not require anyone to do anything to aid energy saving. That is not nonsense but a fundamental objection.
Mr. Dafis: I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that individual householders should be compelled to carry out energy efficiency work. That was one of the spurious objections raised by Conservative Members in previous debates. The most recent version of the Bill makes it clear that there will be no compulsion to participate. It is clear that there would be no need for it. Of course, some eccentrics might say that they do not want their homes improved even though energy efficiency schemes would save money and provide extra warmth and comfort. There is no element of compulsion in the Bill, and neither should there be. The hon. Gentleman should understand the need for organisation and planning and for local authorities to be able to see the whole picture to make the most efficient use of resources and prioritise the types of property that need energy efficiency programmes first.
Mr. Butler: The hon. Gentleman refers to the Bill in its latest form, but the motion that we are debating refers to the previous form. If we are dealing with the revised Bill, I would greatly appreciate a copy before I make a
Column 1375speech--or are we dealing with the original Bill? I apologise for asking, but the motion refers to the previous Bill.
Mr. Dafis: The hon. Gentleman should know that the Bill has been revised several times and the part to which I was referring states: "for the avoidance of doubt . . . nothing in this Act shall be taken as . . . conferring any power of entry"--
Conservatives spoke of authorities having power of entry into individual properties but we have clarified that point--
"on any energy conservation authority to compel any other person to carry out any works or repairs on any property."
I stress that there is no compulsion in the Bill although the hon. Gentleman seems to suggest that there should be.
I have already quoted Lord Moore, chairman of the Energy Saving Trust. This is a common-sense Bill, which is why he supported it and why it has been supported by so many Conservative Members. It was endorsed for the same reason by the then Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment--the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones)--which produced an excellent report. His words have already been cited so I shall not repeat them, but I was there when he uttered his historic words. He climbed on a chair in the Jubilee Room, where I was hosting a reception, and declaimed with great enthusiasm his support for the Bill and said that he would be urging the Government to proceed with it.
An extraordinarily impressive array of organisations that work for energy efficiency, which know about fuel poverty and which understand the social and economic agendas, have studied the Bill and support it. Sir Crispin Tickell, the special adviser to the Government on sustainable development, is on record as supporting it. Some hon. Members may recall that, on Third Reading, I asked the then Minister to tell us whether he had been informed of Sir Crispin Tickell's position, and his reply was ambiguous.
Now, however, Sir Crispin Tickell's letter to the Secretary of State for the Environment is available to us. He wrote:
"As a veteran non-signer of manifestos or round robins, I am reluctant to bother you on a specific cause. I only do so because I believe that the nature of the Energy Conservation Bill is critical to the success of the work which you and the Government generally have been doing to bring the environment into decision making, and make energy efficiency and conservation a central element in energy policy."
What remains to be said about the importance of the group that he chairs and which offers advice to the Government on how to create a sustainable development strategy? If energy efficiency in the domestic sector is not one of the first steps in moving towards sustainable development, I do not know what is. Sir Crispin Tickell understands the significance of that.
I should be surprised if Sir Crispin Tickell did not understand that he was, in fact, writing to the wrong Minister. He assumed that he needed to persuade the Department of the Environment, but we all know that the objections to the Bill come from elsewhere. The crux of the matter is that the objections come not from the Department of the Environment but from the Treasury, which has probably not even heard of sustainable development. The Treasury's interest is in deregulation and, especially these days, in the selling off of PowerGen
Column 1376and National Power. That is what lies behind the present agenda. Is it not shameful that we allow such considerations to drive policy? On Second Reading, I read out a list of Tory Members who were on record as supporting the Bill. Their names are listed in Hansard . The disgraceful blocking tactics--the Minister has now admitted that they were blocking tactics--adopted on Second Reading, led by the people whom I called the abominable seven, meant that those Tory Members did not have to vote or take sides. What are they going to do tonight? Will they support the Government? Will they support the amendment to the motion that deplores a Bill that they endorsed and that they promised their constituents they would support? Will they vote against the motion? If so, what of their undertakings to their constituents and their political integrity? If they betray the trust that their constituents have placed in them, they will have to pay a heavy price, and we know how it will be paid.
The Government must support the Bill in some shape or form or--we would be satisfied with this--they must make their own equally effective proposals. Perhaps that is what the Government have in mind, and perhaps the Minister will tell us about them when he replies. If the Government have their own proposals, they must encompass the provisions of this Bill to be effective. However, if the Government are not prepared to accept the Bill or offer their own equally effective proposals, they will be seen not only as perfidious--I believe that "perfidy" is a better word than "sleaze"--but as irresponsible, as having only short-term considerations, and as rapidly going crackers.
Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight): I do not often disagree with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, and I hesitate to do so in my first contribution to such a debate as the newly elected Chairman of the Environment Select Committee. However, I distinctly heard my hon. Friend say in his closing remarks that the Liberal Democrats had to make up their minds on the issue. He indulges them by crediting them with an intellectual eminence that an objective observer would find quite unjustified. Clearly, to make up one's mind one has to have a mind in the first place.
In 1991, domestic, public and commercial buildings accounted for 43 per cent. of final energy demand in the United Kingdom, contributing half the nation's emissions of carbon dioxide. Noting that fact led the Select Committee to produce, in 1993, a focused report on energy efficiency in buildings. That report has already been mentioned. When it was published, the then Chairman of the Select Committee--now the Under-Secretary of State responsible for energy efficiency--expressed concern that so little progress had been made in implementing energy efficiency since the Energy Select Committee's report on the same subject in 1991.
The Committee's inquiry was undertaken between May and July 1993; 20 groups of witnesses appeared before it, and more than 100 pieces of written evidence were received. In the course of the inquiry, the Committee visited Newcastle and Glasgow to see the work of the agencies involved in improving energy efficiency in
Column 1377housing occupied by low-income groups. We also visited the United States, to learn about the American experience of least-cost planning and demand-side management.
Our report was well received, and the Government's response was positive in tone, even if not all the Committee's recommendations were accepted in full. Since the inquiry proper, the Committee has continued to pursue the subject of the attitude of the Director General of Gas Supply to the funding of energy-saving measures. I shall say more about that later.
I especially commend the Department for its advertising campaign based on the slogan, "Wasting Energy Costs the Earth". More than 25 per cent. of carbon dioxide emissions come from energy used in the home.
Energy conservation and energy efficiency are not the same thing. It is possible to conserve energy and yet continue to use it inefficiently. It is also possible to improve the efficiency with which energy is used, but also to use more of it. The Committee saw a classic example of the latter phenomenon in the United States, where consumers were encouraged by Government-sponsored money-off offers to buy super energy-efficient refrigerators. The problem was that the Americans bought the fridges but kept their old fridges, too, to store their beer. The net result was an increase in energy consumption.
We discovered that even when there was an attempt to collect up the old fridges as part of the bonus scheme that went with the purchase of more energy-efficient fridges, the old fridges were sold on to low-income groups, usually Hispanic, who could least afford their high energy consumption and running costs. We were told of another similar system--an attempt to take gas-guzzling cars off the road--and those, too, were sold on to low-income groups.
In taking evidence in America--in California, in fact--the Minister himself, when he was Chairman of the Select Committee, observed that there was not a clothesline to be found. Apparently every American housewife uses a tumbledrier--although it is true that much work has been done on producing more energy-efficient tumbledriers. When my hon. Friend inquired why there were no clotheslines in that beautiful sunny climate-- incidentally, the peak energy demand there is in summer, because of air conditioning, not in winter as in our climate--he was told that any alteration would interfere with the American way of life, and people's right to decide how to live their own lives. Tumbledriers were apparently part of the American experience; clearly, clotheslines were out. After my hon. Friend made that point, we all carefully looked out of the bus windows wherever we went, but I do not believe that we spotted a clothesline the whole time that we were there.
Having sounded that note of caution, I must add that the Committee found that most measures to encourage energy efficiency lead to reductions in energy consumption, and its recommendations were formulated accordingly.
Some of the least energy-efficient buildings are the houses lived in by those least able to pay high fuel and power bills. In Glasgow the Committee saw how improvements to 1960s tenement blocks could achieve dramatic savings in fuel bills. We therefore called for the
Column 1378Government's excellent home energy efficiency scheme--or HEES--to be extended, and for investment in such measures to be increased. The Government duly obliged, doubling the provision for HEES in the Budget.
We noted that the imposition of VAT on fuel was welcomed by Friends of the Earth. I cannot lay my hands on the precise part of the evidence, but I recollect that the witness from Friends of the Earth said that he thought that the VAT would be a kick in the pants for energy efficiency.
As for new housing, the Committee supported the greater use of home energy labels, and suggested that mortgage lenders could take the energy efficiency rating of a house into account in their calculations, because lower fuel bills should enable buyers to make higher mortgage repayments, and would also enhance resale value. In their response, the Government said that officials were in discussion with mortgage lenders on that and related subjects; so perhaps when the Minister winds up the debate he will tell the House about the outcome of those discussions.
On keeping the Government's own house in order, the news is not at all good. Although some Departments have succeeded in reducing energy consumption and bills, others have had less success. The Department's response said that the Energy Efficiency Office was
"pressing strongly for greater energy efficiency on the Government estate".
The Minister has told us that the new Department of the Environment building will be energy-efficient, and will incorporate a combined heat and power unit. The Select Committee welcomes that news. However, what the Government say about the EEO makes it sound as though it may be meeting some resistance. Wasting energy makes no sense from an environmental point of view, and in terms of public expenditure too, it is nonsense.
The Department of the Environment needs to get tough with other Departments, especially the Ministry of Defence, which did not even know how much energy it was using, let alone how much it was wasting. The new Minister responsible for energy efficiency is just the man to get tough, and to tell Sir Humphrey to switch that light out. Indeed, we read in the papers this week that Sir Robin Butler's replacement may come from the Ministry of Defence. Perhaps my hon. Friend will suggest to the Cabinet a beauty contest for that post, on the basis of energy efficiency, so that the senior civil servant who has reduced the Government's energy costs most will be appointed as the new Cabinet Secretary. Who knows?
The Government must look ahead and develop a strategy for reducing carbon dioxide emissions beyond the year 2000. The Committee was somewhat astonished that, despite all the commitments that they had rightly entered into, the Government had failed to map out how they intended to achieve the necessary further reductions in carbon dioxide emissions in the next century. The Committee found the Government's attitude somewhat complacent. I am sure that the new Minister has brought some fresh ideas with him to the Dispatch Box, and that he will share them with us later.
Setting up the Energy Saving Trust was supposed to be a key part of the Government's strategy for energy efficiency, and for meeting the national target for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. However, as the Select Committee has said before, that work has been stymied by the actions of the gas and electricity regulators.
Column 1379Unfortunately, the trust has been unable to raise the £1.5 billion that it is generally agreed that it needs to achieve the targets that the Government have set for it.
That is not completely a problem of the trust's own making. It was always envisaged that the money would come from the producers, suppliers and consumers of the energy that needed to be saved. Unfortunately, the electricity regulator has agreed to raise less than one tenth of the sum required, and the new Director General of Gas Supply has so far adopted an unhelpful and even hostile approach towards the trust.
The Committee, under the chairmanship of the Minister, twice summoned Ms Spottiswoode to justify her failure to allow the trust's schemes to go ahead, and twice she failed to convince the Committee that she was right. She came with a remarkable set of preconceived ideas and I likened her to Boadicea in the way in which she gave evidence and, at times, contradicted herself. Has she convinced the Government? How do Ministers intend to resolve the question of the funding of the Energy Saving Trust, and whether the gas regulator will henceforth be playing a full and positive role in that process? It is estimated that it will cost at least £1. 5 billion to meet the target of reducing carbon dioxide production by 2.5 million tonnes by the year 2000. In July 1993 the Office of Electricity Regulation agreed to £100 million over four years under the supply price control, but Professor Littlechild rejected doing anything similar under the distribution price control which he announced in August.
The EST submitted proposals to Ofgas in July for a £25 million a year package. Ms Spottiswoode has not yet responded, but she looks unlikely to agree to most of the package. Ofgas promised to publish a paper setting out its approach to energy efficiency and the E factor. This was originally scheduled for July, but it has yet to be published, although I understand that the Departments have seen a draft.
Since April, John Hobson--director general of the Energy Efficiency Office- -has been chairing an interdepartmental group of officials which is supposed to be working on alternative funding options for the EST. So far, the group has met infrequently and seems to have made little progress.With a gas Bill now looking increasingly likely in the Queen's Speech, there would be an opportunity to introduce some form of levy on gas suppliers to fund energy efficiency, although that would not address electricity. However, another suggestion has been that the Government could change the non-fossil fuel obligation--a 10 per cent. levy on all electricity customers, which goes mainly to support nuclear power, with some money for renewables--to enable some of the money raised to fund energy efficiency. Which--if any--of those options are the Government seriously exploring to secure the trust's future?
As for the environmental duties of the regulators, the Select Committee recommended that the Government place stronger duties on Ofgas and Offer to protect the environment and ensure that the energy sector makes the fullest possible contribution to meeting the UK's commitment to reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The Government told the Committee that they could review the duties and powers of Ofgas and Offer if necessary, and the Government should be giving further consideration to that for several reasons.
Column 1380First, the EST looks unlikely to make a contribution to the year 2000 target. Secondly, opening up the gas and electricity markets to full competition will have far-reaching effects on energy supply and use, which could have an environmental implication. Thirdly, the Government will soon have to consider targets beyond the year 2000. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) commenced the debate by praying in aid the support of parish and town councils. I wonder where the hon. Gentleman has been. He has certainly not been visiting the grass roots of the parish and town councils in his own constituency, because they are among the worst offenders with regard to energy conservation. The councils either meet in a village hall which has all of the warm welcome of a deep freeze and more draughts than a log cabin, or they sit in their shirtsleeves in a sort of civic sauna.
We heard strictures from the hon. Gentleman about emissions and pollution in the atmosphere. The Liberal Democrat party accepted from the British School of Motoring one of the largest contributions to a political party ever made. That organisation has probably put more people on to the roads of Britain than any other, which shows up that party's hypocrisy in the debate.
Ms Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): In following the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field), I must say that I rarely find myself having any sympathy with anything said by Conservative Members. [Hon. Members:- - "Shame."] Yes, it is a shame. However, I think that the hon. Gentleman made some useful points today, and the Minister will have to rise to the challenge when he tries to respond to the pertinent points made by his hon. Friend.
I come to this debate in support of the motion standing in the name of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and his colleagues, and to deplore the amendment tabled by the Government. The latter is yet another attempt by cynical Ministers to claim exaggerated green credentials for minimalist programmes.
The efficient use of energy requires a degree of strategic thinking and planning that is entirely at odds with the Government's philosophy. While today's debate is quite properly concerned with the domestic sector, we must remind ourselves that considerations of energy conservation and efficiency begin a lot earlier than the electric switch or the gas tap in the home.
The Government have no strategic view beyond market forces. They have squandered the resource of North sea oil, abandoned our coal reserves and failed to set targets for individual energy sectors. They have no strategy for heat conservation at the source of generation, and they have signally failed to demonstrate any real commitment to renewable energy sources.
Combined heat and power is a case in point. Most power stations are only around 34 per cent. efficient, while combined heat and power systems are at least 80 per cent. efficient. The Government have--on environmental grounds, they tell us--set a target to more than double the use of CHP, but they have not spelled out how that will be achieved. The Combined Heat and Power Association states in a briefing produced for today's debate:
"CHP can work either in a regulated market--or a free market--but not one in which the energy regulators and the DTI are all pulling in different directions."
Column 1381Privatisation of the utilities has made energy efficiency much more difficult. The maximisation of profits by maximising sales clearly undermines any energy efficiency objective. The framework of regulation militates against strategic planning and, as we have seen recently, the regulators on their own account may decide not to accept responsibility for energy efficiency.
In the Labour party, we believe that energy efficiency is one of the most important goals of public policy. We propose a national programme of energy efficiency works, with the linked objectives of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and generating substantial amounts of long-term employment. In line with that policy, my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) and for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), and a great many Opposition Back Benchers, supported the private Member's Bill of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) at all stages in this House. We join the hon. Members for Truro (Mr. Taylor) and for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) in thoroughly deploring the way in which Ministers destroyed that Bill. It was a modest, but important, measure providing a mechanism for producing an audit of energy needs area by area around the country, and developing a schedule of work which could be carried out to meet those needs. The Government's tawdry tactics in defeating that Bill fly in the face of common sense.
Let me say why the Labour party supports energy efficiency measures. First, there is the scale of the problem. Some £10 billion-worth of energy is wasted every year. There is also the impact on the environment, to which a number of hon. Members have referred. Power stations are major contributors to the production of greenhouse gases, and without a much more comprehensive energy efficiency programme Britain is unlikely to make her proper contribution to the Rio objectives.
In that context, it is salutary to note that the United Kingdom accounts for 3 per cent. of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, but only 1 per cent. of the world's population. Furthermore, our production of carbon dioxide actually increased in 1991 and 1992 and, although I acknowledge that it did decrease in 1993, we are not fully confident that the Government will meet their targets. Energy efficiency offers one of the best options, not just for stabilising but for reducing carbon dioxide production. Yet I am told--my figures are entirely at odds with the Minister's, so I hope that the Minister who replies to the debate will give me some further advice on the subject--that investment in energy efficiency declined in the United Kingdom by 28 per cent. between 1989 and 1992.
As significant as the environmental case for energy efficiency are the compelling social reasons for it. Simply, people ought to be able to afford to keep their homes warm, dry and comfortable. As others have said in previous debates, an estimated 7 million British households live in circumstances in which they cannot heat even one room to the minimum standard recommended by the World Health Organisation.
It is well known and accepted that those who spend the longest periods at home, particularly when sedentary, require the most heat. Yet pensioners, people with
Column 1382disabilities and mothers with young children, who are all more at home than most, include most of the poorest households. Fuel poverty is a national disgrace. Yet rather than seek a thorough programme of assistance to poorer households, the Government impose the burden of value added tax on fuel. Then they have the audacity to call it a necessary measure to meet the target reductions agreed at Rio. Allowing elderly people to freeze to death is hardly a strategy that commends itself to environmentalists.
The provisions of the Energy Conservation Bill provide the basis of a proper audit of needs, a proper system of planning and proper assessment of priorities. Few Members of Parliament can have undertaken winter surgeries without having constituents, particularly the elderly, complain that they cannot heat their homes. Cost is always a major concern, but so, too, are structural deficiencies, gaps in windows and doors, the leaking roof, the cold corner flat in the concrete block and the frustration of using inadequate heating that then leads to condensation and mould growth. It is estimated that 3 million homes suffer from the latter.
It is surely obvious how many worthwhile jobs could be created by attending to the vital need to improve people's ability to keep warm. In an earlier debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) referred to several studies of the job creation potential of energy efficiency work in Britain. A broad average showed that, for each £20 million of expenditure per year, about 1,000 new jobs could be created. Then the Government tell us that it is too expensive.
In brief, we could help to conserve our environment, keep people warm, reduce heating costs and create worthwhile jobs. The Government claim to share the same objectives, but their schemes are piecemeal--soon started and soon ended. Schemes come and go. The Minister has already mentioned some of them, including the green house programme. Funding was £45 million last year, £5 million this year and is then to end. There has been an increase in funding for the home energy efficiency scheme, to which the Minister also referred. Of course it is welcome, but there are limitations on the types of insulation that can be undertaken under the scheme. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether the funding is to be maintained, or even increased. Even with the current level of funding, it will take two decades to insulate only the low-income households in Britain. Then there is the Energy Saving Trust. I am surprised that the Minister was able to bring this to mention, given the chaos that exists. The trust was trumpeted as the Government's energy conservation flagship, central to their strategy to achieve their international climate change commitments, but already the trust has said that it doubts its ability to meet the targets set for it. Clearly, as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight said, the trust does not have anything like the resources required to do the job for which it was set up. I believe that it needs £300 million to £400 million a year. It has only £25 million. We are not impressed by the actuality of Government programmes. They give plenty of advice but far too little investment.
Local authorities, by contrast, have done very significant things on very limited resources. In earlier debates my hon. Friends have paid tribute-- and I do so again today--to the excellent work of Leicester city council, which has filled cavity walls in almost 13, 000
Column 1383council homes and achieved cost savings of 50 per cent. That council is conducting an energy survey of all its council housing stock.
Newcastle has carried out a project, with the European Commission, British Gas, Northern Electric and British Coal, aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions and energy consumption in the city by the year 2000. Nottinghamshire county council has had a programme of energy conservation work in its buildings for 14 years.
I want to add to those examples my borough of Lewisham. It is a poor borough that has often had great needs to meet in many areas of its work. Yet it has shown considerable imagination in trying to bring better services to its residents. Lewisham has carried out energy surveys of most of its local authority buildings to identify the scope for investment in energy saving techniques. Before the introduction of local management of schools, all schools were surveyed.
Lewisham has recently installed new boilers in schools and other buildings, creating new savings. Energy management systems and boiler controls have led to further reductions. Improvement of the insulation within council housing stock is also an aim, and Lewisham has used money allocated through the housing investment programme to undertake insulation measures on council stock. In addition, the council has undertaken an energy audit of all its housing stock to set a benchmark for improving the energy efficiency of the stock in the future.
Mr. Butler: Does not the fact that those councils have undertaken energy efficiency work demonstrate--more effectively than any Conservative Member could do by merely declaiming it--the fact that the Bill proposed by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) is unnecessary? Councils can do it now if, as we are told, they want to do it.
Ms Ruddock: The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that councils can do it now, and some of them do, but they do so with great difficulty. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, most councils in Britain have programmes that are desirable and wished for by their residents, but which they cannot undertake for lack of resources due to Government cuts and restraints on local authority spending.
We fear that only a minority of local authorities have undertaken energy audits. Most of the councils whose records the Government have applauded and mentioned in debates are Labour local authorities. We applaud those which do the work voluntarily, but if we are to have a nationwide scheme, which is what we need, a nationwide audit and a basis on which to bring homes up to standard nationwide, every local authority must undertake that work--and that will require legislation.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Robert B. Jones): I must correct the hon. Lady. It is not a minoritof local authorities that act in this way. It is a huge majority. Even those which are not quite that far down the road have plans to take action in the near future. It is not simply a question of Labour, Conservative, Liberal or hung authorities. It is authorities
Column 1384of all political persuasions. I am sure that the hon. Lady will join me in paying tribute to the efforts that they have made.
Ms Ruddock: The Minister is aware that I have just paid fulsome tribute to the efforts that have been made. We may have a debate about this, though probably not in this House. But we should be interested to see the list of those who have been carrying out audits that are in line with the proposals in the Bill that the Government defeated. It seems odd that the Government should have defeated a Bill when it is so easy and desirable to carry out the Bill's proposals and when the Government support those proposals. Why, then, did they choose to defeat the Bill? What the Minister said simply does not add up, and this debate will be pursued.
Ms Ruddock: There is no evidence whatever that it will be an enormous and costly bureaucracy. I repeat that, if those measures are so desirable and efficacious, it makes sense that all authorities should have a duty placed on them to undertake that work. We all know that, when the work is undertaken, the savings are considerable. In this year alone, the small programme that my local authority of Lewisham has been able to institute against all the odds is reckoned to save £600,000 in that area alone.
We are certain that much more could be done and that, if the Government were really committed to energy efficiency, they would have supported the Energy Conservation Bill. Labour has a comprehensive programme of energy conservation and efficiency, but today I simply emphasise our support for a proper national programme of energy conservation work in people's homes. The work could be carried out free at the point of installation, but funded over a period by a small premium on the unit price of gas and electricity. People would still be better off, because they would save substantially on their energy bills. In short, people would be warmer, the housing stock would be improved, and jobs would be created--not a bad package, as the Minister would say.
I shall support the motion today and I have no doubt that, if the Government do not change their attitude and should the opportunity arise through success in private Members' ballots, someone on the Opposition side of the House will be back to press the Government again and again on this vital issue of energy conservation in people's homes.
Mr. Peter Butler (Milton Keynes, North-East): The closing remarks of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) remind me of the comments of the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) on an earlier occasion, when he said that this debate would not go away, and that, if the Government were still in power in November--he seemed to doubt it--the Bill would be put back before the House. Although the hon. Gentleman is not in the Chamber now, I hope that he will accept that we will still be in power in November and that, if the Bill returns, it will again fail to meet approval.
Column 1385I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I have been practising the pronunciation of "Ceredigion" since the last occasion, when I took advantage of the Official Reporters' skill and referred to him as "the Member for Wales" throughout the debate, which they then corrected in the Official Report . Even in his absence, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do the same again today. May I start with agreement, especially as we are unlikely to end the debate with it? We all agree that action is needed to secure better use of less energy, not just in homes or offices, be they Government or private, but throughout all the sectors in our society where energy is consumed. I agree with the need for action but not with the need for the Bill, which forms the motion put forward by the Liberal Democrats.
Subsequent to the last debate on this matter, I met the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North to try to seek common ground. We found quite a lot of common ground, but not enough. When this Bill was last debated, I also took the opportunity to come out in public as having for some time been a member of an organisation known as Friends of the Earth, and to compliment it on some of the excellent publications that it has produced over the years, and the stalwart, ground-breaking work that it has done in looking at problems, including energy conservation. I said that I regretted, however, that, when it strays into party politics, for some inexplicable reason it seems to come down on the wrong side.
Having agreed the need for energy efficiency, we must be clear what we mean by it. We do not mean being able to turn up thermostats and heat houses at an unnecessarily higher level for the same cost. It is certainly not meant in the sense in which one often hears it: "My heating system is efficient," implying that it heats the house to a high temperature. We mean using less energy to achieve the necessary levels of heat. We should be clear about that. In my experience--for instance, in the Palace of Westminster--many rooms are heated to a ridiculous temperature. That is not energy efficiency but simply waste.
Wasting less energy is the other part of energy efficiency. We must use less and waste less. Many of us live in houses where the best we can hope to do is heat the wind as it passes through. Clearly, in such homes, draught-proofing or, in the more extreme cases that we often find in north Buckinghamshire, wind-proofing is the most effective form of energy saving, and is far better than merely adding more heat.
We should therefore be clear that often in this debate we are discussing relatively low technology. We are talking about draft excluders, bits of plastic and rubber nailed to doors, and straightforward secondary double glazing, not exclusively about high technology boilers or the replacement of complete systems. As you well know, Mr. Deputy Speaker--as you are, I hope, familiar with it--my constituency is in Milton Keynes, which, proudly and incontrovertibly, can boast that it is Britain's greenest city. After the last debate on this Bill, the Minister for the Environment and Countryside opened a materials recycling facility that has so far cost some £6 million. He opened it extremely
Column 1386effectively, and I invite those who have not yet visited the facility to do so, especially the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North.
The waste stream comes into that facility, directly collected from individual houses. I am involved in the audit with some companies to see whether we can involve them as well. The waste is collected from houses in the borough and is then sorted, partly by hand, partly by magnetism and partly by some astonishing system that rejects certain types of plastic and separates them from others.
Next week, the Minister will address a conference in London about what comes out at the end of the waste stream. Opposition Members in particular may feel that it is entirely appropriate that a Minister of the Crown should address a conference about what happens at the end of the waste stream. At that conference, a paper will be delivered by an officer of Milton Keynes borough council. I hope that the Minister will be able to stay to hear that. He will talk about the excellent recovery of energy carried out at that materials recycling facility.
What happens at the end of that waste stream is that chits of molten plastic of a uniform size and type are selected and separated by means of some extremely high-technology equipment, which is basically a large tank of water. The stuff to be collected floats, and the stuff to be rejected sinks. That which floats is collected and returned to a company called Plysu, whose international base is in my constituency, and it recycles it. The cost of so doing is less than the cost of using new materials.
That is an example not of hot air and theory but of practical application, good energy efficiency and recycling practice. Because it takes place in Milton Keynes, I invite any hon. Members with a genuine interest in the subject to visit the facility. I should be happy to arrange such a visit. I formally congratulate the Government on enabling the borough council to raise the necessary funds to do that.
I have in recent months welcomed the challenge issued to the packaging industry last July to deal with waste packaging, to try to allocate by means of the producer responsibility group the responsibility for the cost of that packaging between those who produce it, those who fill it, those who sell it and, to an extent, those who subsequently recover it.
There are difficulties with the present proposals, because they seem to impose an inordinate proportion of the cost on those who produce. The allocation of the cost seems to be in inverse proportion to the representation of that part of the industry on the producer responsibility group. Obviously, someone must correct that. None the less, the initiative is more than welcome, and, in due course, it will put into effect the proper dictum that the polluter pays. All that will lead to another packaging revolution, accelerating the progress that we have made towards minimal packaging, and therefore minimal waste and minimal use of energy.
In debating the motion, we are debating the Energy Conservation Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), which contained fundamental defects. The first, to which I referred in an intervention, is that the right hon. Gentleman said in Committee that no one is required to achieve those levels.