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Column 924buyers who move to older properties and who find it difficult to finance energy-saving measures. I hope that the Energy Saving Trust will propose some ways of assisting people in those circumstances. We also have to address the problem in relation to elderly people. I know that the home energy efficiency scheme--draught-proofing and loft insulation--has helped some pensioners, but I believe that a lot more can be done for older people in our community by way of grants to encourage energy efficiency.
I will not list all the other measures that I think the Energy Saving Trust should implement. We have to find a way of financing them. Energy saving is clearly very important for the world environment. It is also important because it will make this country more efficient and thus make us more competitive internationally. Much of today's debate has concerned individual homes, but a lot of energy is consumed in offices and other buildings.
Although it is difficult to convince people to spend money, the small expenditure on energy-efficient measures now will mean substantial savings in the future. I hope that the Bill will raise public awareness of the problem and convince the whole country that we must take energy conservation seriously.
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate. I welcome the Bill, and I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on winning the "raffle"--I think that was the expression that her right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) used when he moved the Second Reading of last year's Bill--or the "lottery", to use her own word. I am sure that she will win no further raffles or lotteries for some time, as she has used up all her available luck. I am pleased to support the Bill, not least because its basic thrust is supported by so many of my constituents in Eastbourne. The hon. Lady was a little unfair in criticising those of us who had genuine reservations about the terms of last year's Bill. The House is often accused of legislating with too little care, at too great a speed, on too many issues. This may be a classic example--with all due respect to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon- Tweed--of the need for a longer gestation.
I welcomed the opportunity to take part in the debate on last year's Energy Conservation Bill--the final debate in which Stephen Milligan, then Member of Parliament for Eastleigh, participated. He and I were good friends from Oxford days. He participated in that debate and sadly died a couple of days later. That Bill was of a rather different nature.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on three counts. I have already mentioned her good fortune. Secondly, she has taken heed of the advice of other hon. Members, and presumably of officials and Ministers, on how to achieve her objectives. Thirdly, she has taken a holiday from the sort of gesture politics of which her party is so fond. When the Bill has been fully crafted in Committee, I hope that it will make a genuine contribution.
In last February's debate, I said:
"I believe in giving credit where credit is due. The Bill is an interesting and timely piece of legislation."
I do not resile from any of that. I made the point that 30 per cent. of Eastbourne's population are over retirement age. As the hon. Lady pointed out, often they are precisely
Column 925the people who live in older, draughty and difficult- to-heat homes that need the sort of attention that the Bill and the other schemes might produce.
Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough): Does my hon. Friend agree that we share similar problems in respect of Department of Social Security hostels in our respective constituencies? Many inhabitants of those former hotels live in extremely draughty, cold and uncomfortable conditions--often crammed in like sardines by unscrupulous landlords. Will not the Bill go some way towards helping to alleviate the conditions in which some hostel tenants find themselves?
Mr. Waterson: My hon. Friend and I have worked closely on the vexing issue of DSS hostels in seaside resorts and their uncontrolled growth. It is pleasurable to note that the Government acted swiftly in terms of planning law, by changing the use classes order last year--although we still have some way to go in tackling that problem. It is a matter of ensuring the closure of hostels of the type described by my hon. Friend where they do not meet safety, insulation or other requirements; regulating hostels that come up to standard in future; and ensuring that there is not a mushrooming of new hostels of that type.
Another remark that I made in last year's debate is central to the palpable differences between last year's Bill and that now before the House:
"I am worried not only about the cost but about the potential extra bureaucracy involved. We have quite enough local and central Government officials as it is."--[ Official Report , 4 February 1994; Vol. 236, c. 1156-60.]
The Bill has attracted a wide spectrum of support throughout the country. I have, in common with other right hon. and hon. Members, received a letter from Friends of the Earth, which states:
"Energy efficiency measures are not only cost effective but can provide significant social, employment and health benefits, a reduction in household fuel bills and a reduction of the polluting gases which contribute to acid rain and climate change."
At the other end of the spectrum, the Construction Industry Council also has written to hon. Members in support of the Bill. It speaks on behalf of 330,000 construction professionals and more than 1,000 consulting firms, and makes the telling point that about half of UK energy is used in buildings, and that a modest 12 per cent. improvement in energy efficiency would achieve the Government's commitment to reduce CO emissions by 6 per cent.
The CIC points out also that the Bill has the support of many organisations, such as Age Concern and Mencap, and of 700 local councils-- and even now that figure may be out of date. The Bill enjoys a considerable body of support across the political spectrum and throughout the country.
Column 926Why does energy conservation matter? More than 20 per cent. of the UK's annual £50 billion energy bill could be saved through efficiency measures. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said:
"Growth is not the enemy of the environment. Growing economies can invest in technologies which save energy and dynamic businesses can lead the way in raising the standard of corporate environmental practice . . . The environmental buck stops in our back yard."
Mrs. Maddock: In common with the hon. Gentleman's constituency, a great many elderly people live in Christchurch. However, we must not forget others--such as those in multiple occupancy--who are not elderly but live in damp, cold conditions. I hope that my Bill will address also that problem.
Mr. Waterson: I do not mean to suggest that one group is any more deserving of help than another. My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) mentioned hostels, which are a particular problem in seaside towns--although one likes to think that one attraction for many people is their slightly more clement climate, at least on the south coast.
Eastbourne has a combination of a large retirement age population and older buildings. I yield to no one in my praise for the design and layout of Eastbourne. It was planned by a previous Duke of Devonshire on a careful grid. An aerial view or a view from the sea shows just how elegantly Eastbourne was laid out from the start. That means in turn that it has many old buildings, some of which have not been kept in the state of repair they deserve, in view of their historic and architectural value.
It was a little rich of the hon. Lady, in one section of her speech that could usefully have been left on the cutting-room floor, to comment that the recent vote on increasing VAT on domestic fuel might mean the Government failing to meet their Rio objectives. I do not recall hearing the hon. Lady or any of her parliamentary colleagues making that point with passion, or at all, in the debate on that issue. If that indicates that the hon. Lady has had a lightning conversion to the genuine argument that VAT on fuel would help achieve the Rio objectives, I congratulate her on her perception.
Mrs. Maddock: The hon. Member is slightly misconstruing what I said. The people in my constituency, and indeed the people in the country--given the way in which I came to this place--can have no doubts about exactly how I and my party feel about VAT on fuel. I regret that we are still having the same argument when we have made it clear how we feel about the matter.
Mr. Waterson: If I were made of sterner stuff, I would move on to another point, but being a humble politician--one who has some experience of campaigning against Liberal Democrats--I feel that I ought in all fairness to finish the point. I know that the hon. Lady has had a lot to do with the subject of VAT on fuel, and that it was a major part of her election campaign.
I make no criticism of that, but it seems impossible to justify a situation in which this country is the only one in Europe which does not have a tax of some sort on domestic fuel. We put VAT on the material that is used to insulate one's loft to save the very fuel that is being untaxed. The hon. Lady has tried to persuade the House
Column 927that she has taken a consistent line, but there is at least a difference of emphasis between what she says when we are debating fiscal measures such as VAT, and what she says during debates on energy conversation.
Mr. Peter Bottomley: My hon. Friend was also discussing the Rio targets. Does he accept that the likelihood is that we shall be one of very few countries which will meet their Rio target, and that one reason is that a nuclear power generation plant which was put in an aluminium smelter will no longer be supplying the smelter because the smelter has closed, but will instead be supplying people's residential energy needs around the country? As that produces less pollution, should not the Liberal Democrats and others congratulate the nuclear industry on helping us to reach the Rio target?
Mr. Waterson: My hon. Friend makes a telling point. If we are all united in the aims laid out at Rio, it is incumbent on the Opposition parties as much as the Government to come up with proposals on how we reach the target. There is no earthly point in the Opposition saying only that they believe passionately that we must get from A to B: they are obliged to give the electorate a road map to show how they intend to get from A to B.
Mr. Bennett: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Government claimed that 15 per cent. of their target for cutting carbon dioxide emissions would be achieved as a result of putting VAT on fuel? I took the trouble to check on the sale of energy efficiency equipment such as roof insulation equipment in my constituency following the first increase in April. If the Government's theory was right, one would have expected that those people who could have afforded it would have improved their loft insulation and taken other measures. I am afraid that all the evidence I got back from the Stockport and Tameside area was that the increase in VAT last April did not provoke people into going for energy-saving measures. That is sad, but the Government must tell us how they are to achieve their target. It is not for Opposition Members, who were sceptical that the measure would achieve the target in the first place, to do so.
Mr. Waterson: I cannot quarrel in any way with the hon. Gentleman's evidence from his area. I do not know whether a more systematic survey has been done across the country. If not, perhaps one ought to be made. I will also be interested to hear what has happened once the increase in VAT has had a chance to feed through the system. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that consumers necessarily react to things immediately, and it may take some time to sink in. I shall be interested to see in due course the Government's figures on the possible effect on consumption.
Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds): Is it not clear that, in real terms, domestic energy prices have been coming down? The net effect of that is that the Government's help as far as the 8 per cent. increase is
Column 928concerned has been totally offset, and that the impact has, curiously enough, not been felt in people's pockets. Should not the Opposition take that on board?
Mr. Waterson: There is some truth in what my hon. Friend says. If prices continue to come down as sharply, some Opposition Members will complain that we shall be further away from reaching the Rio objectives.
Mr. Sykes: There are two Liberal Democrat Members in the Chamber on a Friday, which is extremely unusual. May I remind those Members that our proposals during the debate on the final tranche of VAT on fuel would have left the average pensioner £10 a year better off? By voting against the Government, they were voting against the interests of the very people whom they say this morning they hope to protect.
A point which arose from the intervention by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) is that there is a danger that, simply because prices were cut--a rather simplistic mechanism from one point of view--the kind of people who might buy loft insulation would be those who were better off in any event. As practising Members of Parliament, we often see that the so- called middle classes are more able to organise their lives and to make savings, and that people who are less able to cope--who often, for example, spend money on convenience foods and so on--are not able to budget. We must combine measures to deal with the cost of energy with education and information campaigns which will attract the attention of the people we are talking about.
We have not just invented energy conservation today, or even last year when we discussed the previous Bill. Much is happening already--for example, housing renovation grants which have already been given for improving our housing stock. We in Eastbourne were particularly grateful to the Minister for giving us an extra £900,000 towards housing renovation grants this year. There is no doubt that a significant part of that money will go to achieving the kind of objectives which this debate is dealing with.
One of the things in the hon. Lady's speech with which I concur was the enthusiasm of many local authorities for energy efficiency measures of their own. The briefing from the Library makes the point that local authority investments in energy efficiency measures come to about £200 million a year already through repair and improvement programmes for their housing stock.
Finally, welcome changes have been made to the Bill brought to the House last year, and lessons have perhaps been learnt since then following amendments and points made by hon. Members.
Changes have occurred in three main areas. The first is cost. I think that the hon. Lady said that the estimated cost of the proposals in the previous Bill was £11 million, and that the cost of the proposals in her Bill would be about half that figure. If she did not say that, she can correct me. That is a plus.
Secondly, there are to be no intrusive audits of private households. Whatever the hon. Lady says about the intent of the previous Bill, there was genuine concern about that.
Column 929My constituents were concerned about surveys of private housing stock, and people have a natural sensitivity to the idea of local authority officials coming to their homes, and about being unable to deny those officials access. Thirdly, there will be less bureaucracy. If the Bill is to work, it is important that it is as lean and non- bureaucratic as possible.
There are some crucial differences between this Bill and the Energy Conservation Bill. It seems that local authorities would have more scope to decide for themselves how to set about producing their energy conservation plans for residential accommodation. It would seem also--this is borne out by the House of Commons paper on the subject--that such plans would be more straightforward to produce under this measure than under the previous Bill.
In turning local housing authorities into energy conservation authorities, we must always have in mind the likely extra cost and burden that will be put on those authorities. I am confident, however, that the authorities will not be slow to point out to Members, and through them to Ministers, the extra burdens they expect. Under clause 2, energy conservation authorities are required to "take reasonable steps to assess or estimate"
the energy saving potential in homes in the areas for which they are responsible.
Another difference between this measure and the Energy Conservation Bill is that separate strategies to achieve less ambitious energy savings--I think that they were 10 per cent. and 20 per cent. under the Energy Conservation Bill--will no longer be required. It is important that it is now recognised that we need to build on existing schemes and initiatives. I have in mind work done by local authorities in preparing their bids for housing investment support. Clause 3 also reflects a difference between the two Bills, in that the assessment of potential savings in fuel bills by different types of household would be a power rather than a duty. That provides an element of flexibility that a measure of this sort needs. Under the Energy Conservation Bill, a list was produced of those who had to be consulted--consultees--whereas, under this Bill, the energy conservation authority, or ECA, as no doubt it will come to be called, may
"consult such persons as it considers appropriate."
That is another example of greater flexibility.
Clause 4(3)--not the clause IV--is a relatively little-known provision. It allows the Secretary of State to
"vary any timetable or timetables"
in a way that presumably would allow him to take account of different local circumstances. That is what appears in the Library analysis. As that was not stated so explicitly in the Energy Conservation Bill, it seems that there will be greater flexibility for local authorities in deciding what they should and should not put in their reports. I hope that that is the position, but that can be explored in Committee.
Clause 5 makes it abundantly clear that there will be no powers of entry to properties. That I welcome. As a Conservative Member, I consider that a prerequisite of proposed legislation of this sort. The Conservative party
Column 930does not believe that people's individual property rights should be trampled upon, even in support of a great good such as energy conservation.
I am delighted to have had the chance to talk about the Bill, as I spoke on the Energy Conservation Bill. This measure is a significant improvement on its predecessor. It is an example of how the parliamentary process can improve legislation. I am convinced that the Bill will be improved yet further in Committee.
Mr. Malcolm Wicks (Croydon, North-West): It is a pleasure to support the Bill. As I think that this is the fourth time that the House has considered such a measure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we must not detain you too long. Given the size and extent of the problems and issues, including environmental, energy and social matters, the Bill is, in many ways, a modest measure. It is important, however, because it opens up, potentially, a new chapter in our attack on energy inefficiency and on cold conditions, which I recognise to be one of the major health problems in the United Kingdom. I want to talk about the health aspect of the Bill and how decent energy efficiency measures can attack health problems.
About the first job that I undertook in my career as a young social scientist was to work on a multidisciplinary study into the problems of low body temperature--hypothermia--and cold homes as they affected elderly people. I was involved in a national survey that was undertaken with doctors and scientists in 1972 and I produced a book called "Old and Cold" in 1978, which dealt with the issues. In the early 1980s, I went on a short lecture tour in this country with an eminent doctor from Norway, who was an expert on the problems of cold injury and cold winter mortality. When I first met him, I asked, "Tell me, Doctor, in your country do you have a major worry, as we do, about the problem of hypothermia?" He replied, "Yes, of course. I see it in my hospital. Our young people go out on treks across the country in winter, sometimes foolishly when it is icy and the ground is covered by snow. Some become hypothermic. Sometimes, body temperatures fall to dangerously low levels."
The conversation continued. I said, "Yes, I understand what you have said. We have the same problem, but I am talking about something rather different --hypothermia as it affects old people in their own homes." The doctor looked at me with an air of great puzzlement and said, "Sorry, I don't understand--in their own homes?" I replied, "Yes. The evidence shows that significant proportions of our elderly populations--those in their 80s and 90s, particularly--have low body temperatures. Every year, hundreds of deaths, sometimes a thousand, are associated with low body temperatures, mainly among old people in their own homes." The doctor could not really understand the discussion, so uncommon was the problem in his country and in Scandinavia generally, countries that are far colder than the United Kingdom in winter.
Part of the explanation is that, in the colder countries of Europe, an awareness of the cold is built into cultures and homes. Through high standards of energy efficiency, draught-proofing and insulation, they do not have the national scandal with which we still have to grapple. There are still people in this country who are both old and
Column 931cold. Every year, too many of our oldest and frailest citizens die because of the impact of cold in their own homes.
The evidence is still startling. A comparison is to be drawn between the number of people who die in the summer and those who die in the winter. In the six winter months of 1991-92--October 1991 to March 1992--304,000 of our citizens died. In the preceding summer months--April to September-- 256,000 died. About 48,000 more people died in the winter. As for those aged 85 years and over, 25 per cent. more deaths occurred in winter than in summer.
Although the deaths to which I have referred are associated with many different causes, most are due to two general medical conditions, respiratory conditions such as broncho-pneumonia and circulatory conditions. There are more heart attacks in winter. Although the numbers of those dying from hypothermia may seem to be relatively low, I put it to the House that the problem of excess winter mortality is directly associated with energy inefficiency, poor draught-proofing and poor insulation, which are producing tremendous mortality figures.
Much of our discussion is rightly concerned with energy efficiency and the environmental and housing impact of the Bill, but we should realise that its provisions could make a major contribution to the health of the nation. One of the great health scandals in this country is the problem of the old and cold and excess winter mortality. I repeat the point--the Department of Health journal "Health Trends" presented data on this subject--that in Europe one does not see excess winter mortality to anything like the same extent as in our country. Therefore, my contribution is mainly on that point.
The House would find it very difficult indeed to find a measure that hits so many of the targets that we should hit. I believe that the Bill, although modest, could open up a whole new chapter in that part of public policy. It makes social, economic and environmental sense. It makes environmental sense for the reasons that have been discussed. It was mischievous of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) to tease the Liberal party on value added tax, because in our quest to obtain the Rio targets and our concern about CO , surely there are ways in which we can hit the goals that we want to hit, ways which are socially beneficial rather than socially harmful. Yes, high VAT on fuel may help with the Rio targets, but it would not have helped--indeed, it would have worsened--the problem of the old and cold. This measure, if it were followed through into a programme of public policy, would make not only environmental sense but social sense.
The Bill makes economic sense, too, because at a time when, to be profitable, more and more of our major industries say that they must shed labour, we need to develop programmes that can employ labour. The rather modest projects that we have now, such as the home energy efficiency scheme, are not only a training ground for young people with the required skills but employment programmes. One of the paradoxes of Britain in the 1990s is that, at a time when so many people are unemployed because they cannot find work, there is clearly so much vital work that needs to be done. Energy inefficiency is a major example of that.
Column 932For social, economic, employment, environmental and energy reasons, so that we can finally consign into the dustbin of our social history the terrible problem of the old and cold, the House should support this important measure.
Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to say a few words this morning. I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) not only on having the good fortune to get this lucky Christmas cracker but on arguing her case coherently and fluently. She commended her Bill to the House well.
It is also true to say that those outside the House who look at our proceedings on television often see us confronting one another in a rather harsh fashion across party political lines. Therefore, on an issue that is so vital to so many people--energy conservation and how it affects their lives--it is particularly welcome that there is cross-party support on this occasion.
I read somewhere that the hon. Member for Christchurch was moved by the plight of pensioners in her constituency and that that helped her to form her own view and to introduce the Bill, but, of course, there are a number of other aspects to this matter. I shall relate one of my own experiences, as I was affected by the way in which elderly people react to the cold and concerned about what they should do about it.
I was canvassing in a by-election campaign and went into an elderly lady's flat. She was sitting in a small room, covered with a blanket, a matter of inches away from a small bar heater. The central heating was on. As I walked into the room, it was like being pushed over by a wall of the most immense heat; it must have been more than 90 deg fahrenheit. She said, "Please shut the door. It is so dreadfully cold in here." That fact is that old people do feel the cold. It is true of all of us that, when we are not particularly mobile on a cold winter's day, we feel the cold, too. For many elderly people, that is a special problem. We have all seen that at different times when visiting elderly people in our constituencies.
It is also true that, at times, many elderly people have an unwarranted concern about money. All of us who have elderly relatives know that even those who perhaps do not really need to have that worry do fret. On the other hand, many elderly people who feel the cold feel constrained to do something about it, to keep their houses warm, even if they are personally well resourced, because of their own personal financial concerns. That combination is at the heart of all our concerns about providing adequate insulation in their homes. In December last year, during energy efficiency week, I visited an elderly constituent's home. It had been insulated under the home energy efficiency scheme. It was a real joy to go into the elderly lady's bungalow, because the scheme had been undertaken with great effect. It was said to me by an official of the Energy Action Grants Agency that her heating bills were likely to come down by some 30 per cent. but that her comfort level would be up by some 70 per cent. All the irritating draughts that had caused all her discomfort had been removed. She was happy and so was I.
It is true, therefore, that that scheme has been welcomed by all Members of Parliament as they see it carried out in their constituencies. Like my hon. Friend
Column 933the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), I very much welcome the fact that the funding for the scheme has increased and that the number of houses that could be insulated has been increased. In 1995-96, some 600,000 schemes will be looked at and dealt with under the scheme--up from 440,000 in 1994-95. In April last year, an extra £35 million was put into the scheme to cover those on disability living allowance, and, of course, all those over the age of 60.
The scheme--we have seen its effects--is limited to draught-proofing and insulation. I mention that because the Bill today brings together all the elements of heat conservation under a central Government umbrella but is implemented by local housing authorities. As we have heard, it gives power to the Secretary of State to set a timetable for the implementation of residential energy conservation plans drawn up and implemented by local authorities. It is a good marriage, a good straddle, between central Government and local government. I understand that some 700 local councils have already given the Bill their backing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) said, all of us have had letters from a number of diverse organisations, including Friends of the Earth and the Construction Industry Council, applauding the Bill. I should like to place on record the efforts of local authorities in my constituency to improve energy conservation and improve the housing stock under their control. In a sense, the culture of what the Bill is trying to achieve is already in place, but the Bill gives it a coherence and carries it on.
There are two local councils in my constituency--St. Edmundsbury borough council and Forest Heath district council. St. Edmundsbury set an objective of reducing energy consumption by 10 to 20 per cent. over a five-year period. It is also part of its corporate energy plan to purchase fuel at competitive rates. It wants to raise awareness in its area of the need for energy conservation. It was on that basis and in that spirit that the council signed the Department of the Environment's corporate commitment campaign in line with the Rio accord.
By March 1995, 2,500 homes in the borough's ownership will be up to full insulation standards. This year, £750,000 has been pledged to double- glaze windows, replace boilers and improve insulation further. As a result of that move, which I have encouraged and endorsed, all the council's sheltered housing schemes are above the current standards for insulation. The net effect of that for the elderly has been a reduction in heating charges.
The council has been promoting the home energy efficiency scheme in its area; indeed, it has undertaken an energy audit of all its housing stock to determine how energy conservation can be improved. However, although that may be happening with my local council, it is not necessarily the case universally, despite all the help and encouragement that the Government have given. The Bill will, therefore, give coherence to the move towards energy conservation. It will enhance the culture of energy conservation and encourage further thinking about the energy problems of the future.
The council summed up its endorsement of the Bill by saying: "The Council very much welcomes this approach and would look to being actively involved in the work should the Bill be successful."
Column 934I am sure that, possibly with a few amendments, the Bill will be successful. The culture of energy conservation is alive and well in my constituency and will be further stimulated when the Bill is enacted.
Forest Heath district council has carried out a full assessment of its housing stock of 3,436 dwellings. Some 60 per cent. of the properties have been double-glazed, compared with only 21 per cent. nationally; 37 per cent. have cavity wall insulation, compared with only 29 per cent. nationally; 96 per cent. have central heating--the only reason it is not 100 per cent. is that 4 per cent. did not want it--compared with 78 per cent. nationally; and 100 per cent. have loft insulation, compared with 43 per cent. nationally. The council has an energy efficiency programme for insulation and double glazing. It, too, has welcomed the Bill.
If I may be partisan for a moment, I want to point out that all the improvements that have been made successfully by both councils have not resulted in any increase in council tax for the forthcoming year. Both councils are Conservative controlled.
One feature of the Bill is the focus on houses that are owned by the energy conservation authority--the local authority. It also opens up the possibility that, at the request of private home owners, works could be carried out in the private sector. There is no element of compulsion or of inspectors demanding that that should happen; it is entirely voluntary. It will encourage the whole culture and understanding of this important subject--and, as 70 per cent. of the housing stock in Britain is owner- occupied, that is important. The practicality of energy conservation is an important factor. Many people wanting to improve their homes seek advice, some of which can be quite contradictory. Under the Bill, they will be able to obtain expert advice from individuals in an agreed and wholly professional manner. That is excellent news.
In August 1992, the home energy efficiency scheme undertook a survey of the grants that it had made and discovered that two thirds of the recipients would not have carried out the energy efficiency work without help from the scheme. The Bill will move that process along in a variety of ways.
We need to consider another factor relating to the macro-economic picture over the past eight years. There has been an extraordinary cycle in commercial and residential property: there was considerable housing construction activity throughout the industrialised world in the late 1980s, followed in the early 1990s by a slump across the industrialised world. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne said, the building trade will be helped by the spillover effect of the insulation and energy conservation improvements that we believe are desirable. It is a powerful stimulus to many people in areas where the residential building sector has been under serious pressure. That economic spillover effect is wholly beneficial.
Mr. Sykes: I do not know whether I have previously mentioned to my hon. Friend that, during the past year, my home has been totally renovated. As part of that, it has been completely insulated, with many conservation aspects being incorporated in the design of the house. I have been astonished by the amount of money saved on
Column 935my gas bills since then. Should not the Bill send out the message that major savings can be made, to the benefit of home economics?
Mr. Spring: My hon. Friend is right. His experience shows that such a message should go out. I had the pleasure of having my hon. Friend as a house guest recently. He knows that in that very flat part of East Anglia-- west Suffolk--the wind comes straight across from the Urals, so it is not always easy completely to insulate houses from the cold. I am sure that when he was staying with me, he noticed the conservation measures that have been undertaken in my cottage. I am sure that he was comfortable.
As I said, the Bill will stimulate employment through work on energy conservation improvements. Some 25 per cent. of heat is lost through an uninsulated roof and 20 per cent. escapes through windows and under doors. That adds up to a massive cost for the nation. It is estimated that, with the right conservation measures, a 20 per cent. saving could be achieved in our national £50 billion energy bill. We know that; in providing a national residential energy efficiency map, the Bill will give an overall strategic coherence to further possible measures to cut heat waste. The environmental advantages are self-evident.
For some years, the Government have been laying the foundations for energy conservation via many schemes and inducements. The Bill encapsulates those and takes on what has been achieved. I wish the Bill well and have great pleasure in supporting it.
Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): I am pleased to be one of the sponsors of the Bill whose promoter, the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock), will receive credit from three sources. She will be praised not only by the House and Parliament but by our people and by the planet as a whole. She is entitled to bask in some of the glory that will flow from that. I want to speak about those three sources in turn.
First, the House ought to be grateful for the Bill, because in no small way it will help the country to meet the international obligations that we undertook at the Rio summit in terms of attempting to reduce to 1990 levels our emissions of CO by the year 2000. It will also help to reduce associated greenhouse gases in line with some of our other undertakings at Rio.
The Bill is a practical application of Lord Healey's dictum about the first law of holes: "When you are in one, stop digging." Reducing emissions to the 1990 level would be an important benchmark, if not an end in itself. In practical terms, this country has undertaken to reduce CO emissions by some 10 million tonnes. In domestic terms, that entails a commitment to reduce emissions from households by, I think, 4 million tonnes. There are arguments as to whether that is a sufficiently high and rigorous target.
In the other place, Lord Ezra suggested that the target that the country had set itself was far from ambitious. He said:
"more affluent countries such as the United Kingdom should be aiming to reduce emissions significantly below 1990 levels. Such an example is being set by Denmark, which is seeking a reduction of 20 per cent. by the year 2000, and by Germany, which is targeting
Column 936a reduction of 25 to 30 per cent. by the year 2005. Why is the UK being so modest?"--[ Official Report, House of Lords , 17 June 1993; Vol. 546, c. 1720-21.]