Previous Section Home Page

I think that the United Kingdom's target is a modest reduction of 6 per cent. Lord Ezra went on to speak about the intergovernmental conference in Berlin in March and said that the report presented to the conference suggested that present emission targets fell far short of the reductions that are necessary to stabilise the accumulating atmospheric concentrations of CO at today's level.

That is an important backcloth to the debate, and we may want to engage in continuing debate about the pace of energy conservation work. However, we ought not to confuse that with the consensus on the Bill about the direction of change. It is easier to get people to act virtuously if they do not have to live their lives miserably, and the Bill will make its most significant and immediate contribution at that people-focused level.

Sadly, winter cold still claims the lives of some 50,000 people in our country. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Wicks) for spelling out how that is broken down. The statistics are a sad fact of life and death. We must add the harder-to-quantify figure of the millions more who are miserably cold, poor and unhappy because of fuel poverty. That is the context in which the House must commit itself to treat the British public no less favourably than Governments across Scandinavia treat their citizens. It is right for my hon. Friend to set that down as a legitimate point of comparison for where we are now.

I should like to pay a couple of tributes. This is the 10th anniversary of a campaign that was started in my city of Nottingham by the local paper, the Nottingham Evening Post . Every year it has run a hat campaign in relation to the old and cold, and it has been a source of constant and quite proper irritation for local and national politicians. That newspaper has been unapologetic in its pursuit of a claim that we ought to treat the fuel-poor better than we have treated them in the past. It has constantly badgered politicians and the public, reminding us of the stark personal facts of fuel poverty.

I congratulate that paper on doing that and on running a practical campaign. It set up a winter fuel fund from which some 2,500 families have been helped to meet fuel bills that they would otherwise not have been able to pay. That local, practical contribution is worth acknowledging and praising. But that newspaper would be the first to acknowledge that we need a national policy on energy conservation rather than simply an appeal to individual conscience.

In that context, I should like to focus on the actions of Nottingham city council. Many of those actions have been pioneered by the leader of the council, Councillor John Taylor.

The council has already set itself a target of reducing its internal energy consumption by 30 per cent. In addition, it wants to explore ways to contribute not only to the campaign in support of the Bill, but to determine the practicalities of what it would mean on the ground. In Nottingham's case it is in the air, because this month it is undertaking a thermal imaging scan of the whole city. I shall deal with some of the practicalities of that. One of the reasons for the scan is that even from the initial surveys and calculations of energy saving potential in the city, the council realised that Nottingham stands to save about £20 million a year simply by reducing wasted


Column 937

domestic energy costs if houses across the city are properly insulated. The council knows that one of Nottingham's current contributions to atmospheric pollution is some 750,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. To tackle that locally makes a small but significant contribution to Britain's overall commitment.

The thermal imaging survey has been planned in partnership with a number of local businesses, and its total cost is some £17,000. I should like to refer to some of the pilot costings per household to individual authorities. During the Second Reading debate on the Energy Conservation Bill last year, the then Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), said:

"Newark and Sherwood district council . . . estimates that it would cost £1 per dwelling. Derby district council . . . estimates that it would cost 53p per dwelling."--[ Official Report , 4 February 1994; Vol. 236, c. 1196.]

He said that, if those costs were replicated by other local authorities, the cost of setting up databases throughout the United Kingdom would be between £11 million and £23 million.

In Nottingham, the total cost of the thermal imaging survey is working out at 17p per household. Members of the public will be able to identify their house and the heat wasted from it at the time of the survey. The city council generously offered the facility to adjoining district councils. Broxtowe, which is

Conservative-controlled, has agreed to take part and its contribution is £400. Sadly, the other adjoining council in the flight path, Rushcliffe, which is represented in Parliament by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has so far declined to take part. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be considerably distressed to learn that that borough council is not prepared to pay for such a survey. Even if the costs of participating in it were doubled to take into account presentations of its findings to the public, they would amount to no more than 2p per household. It is a sad fact that that borough is not prepared to pay 2p to take part in a thermal imaging survey and to find out how much heat is needlessly wasted by the Chancellor's constituents.

I welcome the fact that the Bill contains a commitment to obligations and duties. I am not concerned about the best local authorities and was pleased to hear hon. Members on both sides of the House describe the work that those authorities have done. That is a real tribute to energy consciousness. We ought not to confuse ourselves into believing, however, that that necessarily speaks for the entire country. By building obligations into the Bill, it will require the rest of the country to set itself standards that the best are already achieving. We must also offer encouragement, which is clearly an important part of the process of making the country energy conscious.

Increasing the price of fuel has been mentioned. It is recognised that one of the problems with increasing the cost of domestic fuel is that it is demand-inelastic. Reduced fuel consumption is not entirely governed by people's bills. When faced with a choice between heating and eating, poor people do not always choose to eat. There is an inevitability about fuel bills--they arrive, and they have to be paid-- and in many cases higher fuel bills are making people unnecessarily ill.


Column 938

Although occupants might find it cost- effective to insulate their homes, it might be outside their power to decide. They might be the tenants of private landlords, or they might not have the means to pay for insulation.

I ask hon. Members who are concerned about that problem to consider the next private Member's Bill on the Order Paper, which was submitted in conjunction with this Bill, and picks up on a suggestion by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer--that it is absurd to tax conservation more heavily than the use of energy. The Energy-Saving Materials (Rate of Value Added Tax) Bill reflects the spirit of those views and suggests a practical application. It would reduce the rate of value added tax on home insulation materials, and I hope that the Minister will support not only the Home Energy Conservation Bill but the following one. I shall gladly give way if he wants to confirm that that is his intention.

We must consider ways in which incentives can be built in to encourage people to insulate their homes. I am sure that the Government will do so when considering this Bill. It is part and parcel of their programme in many ways. We might have to consider the pace and comprehensiveness of the incentives. Costs will be involved. As a society, however, we shall reap only what we are prepared to sow. By meeting the initial costs associated with a comprehensive home energy saving commitment, we would be saving ourselves money in the medium term, we would certainly be saving lives and we would meet the international obligations that we set ourselves.

How do we meet those costs? There are two ways. We provide a subsidy of more than £100 million for research and development costs to the nuclear industry. We might get greater mileage for that money if we directed it towards home insulation. The hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) said that the Liberal Democrats ought to be more supportive of the nuclear industry because of its contribution to energy conservation. We ought to recognise, however, that pollution comes not merely in the form of greenhouse gases, which can be measured. The nuclear industry may well be delivering forms of pollution that will usher us to our graves and leave a legacy for many millennia.

The energy supply industries must be seen to be significant contributors to the cost of reducing energy consumption, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have said. As a society, we cannot live profitably and safely simply by increasing that consumption.

Mr. Spring: I do not want to be partisan, as this has so far been an agreeable cross-party process, but is the Labour party dedicated to doing away with nuclear power and to decommissioning existing nuclear power stations?

Mr. Simpson: I want to describe the policy that I hope we shall run with. I am simply saying that we delude ourselves if we believe that the nuclear energy industry does not contribute to pollution. If we carried out an audit of pollution that considered the longer-term perspective of people's lives, as well as the short term, we might well come to a different conclusion about the public costs of going down the nuclear path.

Mr. Spring: The hon. Gentleman did not answer the question on Labour's nuclear policy, but that is a typical


Column 939

feature of life with Labour. There has not been a shred of evidence that anyone's health in this country has been damaged by nuclear power.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse): Order. It is not advisable for hon. Members to continue to go down that road.

Mr. Simpson: May I just point out that the word "Chernobyl" should focus not only the minds of hon. Members--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I think that I speak plain English. I said that it would not be wise to go down that road and the hon. Gentleman must not do so.

Mr. Simpson: I had reached my concluding sentence before the hon. Gentleman intervened.

I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to confirm that the Government will support this Bill and the Bill that follows. The House needs to send out a message to the whole country that we are serious about home energy conservation. If we pass the Bill, we shall be thanked for generations to come by a public who could not only lead more comfortable and secure lives through the winter but do so in the knowledge that they were contributing to the safety and stability of the planet.

11.40 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Robert B. Jones): The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) clearly recognises his role as my cue man. Obviously I shall say something about the Bill, but, as with all good detective stories, we shall have the denouement once we have heard the details of the plot.

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on securing first place in the ballot. If she is a biblical scholar like me, she will remember that many are called and few are chosen, which certainly applies to private Members' Bills. I hark back to the occasion when I, too, was fortunate in the ballot and introduced my Hedgerow Protection Bill, which was subsequently blocked by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen). The hon. Lady's Bill may have a more fortunate outcome. In presenting this Bill to the House, she gives us a further opportunity to discuss the important subject of energy efficiency.

As several hon. Members said, we had a number of debates in the previous Session relating to the Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). Although I am keen not only on energy conservation but on recycling, I do not want to recycle the speeches that I made on other occasions, because this Bill has different features. Although it resembles the right hon. Gentleman's Bill in a number of respects, as the hon. Lady said, it has been changed in others, partly in response to some of the points made by the Government during the proceedings on the earlier Bill, and partly in response to comments made by other hon. Members.

Mr. Beith: The Minister is right to say that the Bill has been modified in a number of respects, partly in response to comments that he made. I should put it on record, however, that I expressed willingness at every stage to do the same a year ago, but the Bill was obstructed in ways that suggested that, at that time, the Government were


Column 940

more hostile to the Bill as a whole than anxious to amend it. Perhaps the work that the Minister is now doing has led to a welcome change in the Government's approach.

Mr. Jones: I was not privy to discussions at the time. I get little access to historical records, because I must plough through all the negotiations that took place at the time.

I certainly welcome the opportunity provided by the Bill to reaffirm the Government's commitment to energy conservation and, in particular, to the efficient use of energy to run our homes and businesses. That makes sense for the national and global environment, the health of our economy and the people who live in the properties concerned.

The many steps that we have taken to promote energy efficiency, to which I shall refer later, are evidence of our commitment, and I hope that our debates on this Bill will provide a valuable discussion of and focus on how we can best facilitate the greater energy efficiency which we all believe would be desirable. That is what underlies the consensus approach of some of today's speeches.

With 25 per cent. of carbon dioxide emissions attributable to energy used in the home, the Bill addresses an important sector. We now have an opportunity to discuss--I hope continuing in a constructive way--how to make the best use of the substantial experience and information already available. The support from organisations and groups to which the hon. Lady and others have referred shows that there is much enthusiasm for and interest in energy efficiency in the country.

The focus of the Bill is energy use in the home. Reductions have an immediate benefit for the householder, in either reduced bills or increased comfort--a point reinforced by the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Wicks). But we should not lose sight of the wider environmental reasons why energy efficiency is important. Improved energy efficiency is a key element in our climate change programme. Under the United Nations climate change convention--signed by 153 countries at the Rio earth summit in 1992--the United Kingdom is committed to taking measures aimed at returning emissions of greenhouse gases to their 1990 levels by the year 2000. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South referred to the possibility of tougher targets, and cited Denmark and Germany. He seems conveniently to forget that those countries, along with others, have VAT on fuel.

Mr. Bennett: Does the Minister really believe that VAT on fuel in those countries has had a significant effect on energy conservation? What evidence can he show that the 8 per cent. put on fuel in April has dramatically improved energy efficiency in this country?

Mr. Jones: I can do no better than quote Friends of the Earth's Budget briefing:

"Increasing the price of domestic fuel is an important signal to householders that energy use should be cut. Cutting energy use is vital to reduce Britain's production of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, and other energy-related pollutants. Friends of the Earth therefore welcomes the Chancellor's commitment to increasing domestic fuel and power prices over the next two years through the gradual imposition of VAT."


Column 941

Obviously it is impossible to predict people's precise behavioural response, but prices must affect their decisions. Although many other aspects of the matter, including knowledge, are important, that is a key ingredient.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North): Is it not also important to realise that energy prices have been falling, and that the application of 8 per cent. of VAT merely offsets real falls that have already taken place? If we do not want people to become lax and casual about energy use, is it not right to maintain a sensible price?

Mr. Jones: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that various factors affect people's behaviour, which is why it is so difficult to quantify the precise effect of a single ingredient. The United Kingdom climate change programme, published in January 1994, sets out in full how the United Kingdom will do this for each of the main greenhouse gases. The centrepiece of the programme is the set of measures to limit carbon dioxide emissions, the most significant greenhouse gas, by achieving savings equivalent to 10 million tonnes of carbon.

The carbon dioxide programme is based on a partnership approach--the Government provide the framework, and business, voluntary consumer and environmental groups, and local government all have a part to play. The programme includes a balanced package of cost-effective measures to encourage a more efficient use of energy across all sectors of the economy.

We are currently reviewing the contributions expected from those measures in the light of recent developments, some of which have just been referred to, and will also take account of the revised energy projections on which the Department of Trade and Industry is working. Our monitoring shows that we are currently on course to meet our commitments, and we will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that we fulfil our commitments under the climate change convention. In addition, we shall have to consider the position beyond the end of the present target period.

Thus, while a change to low-energy light bulbs or installing improved loft insulation in our homes may seem small steps, they make an important contribution to achieving the wider objective. The Government's commitment in that area is clearly demonstrated by the fact that Britain is often the first nation to demonstrate how we plan to tackle environmental initiatives. The United Kingdom was the first country in the world to present a programme under the UN climate change convention. We also played a leading role in the international negotiations under the climate change convention. There are many players in the energy efficiency sector. Within central Government, the focus for activity is the Energy Efficiency Office of my Department. There has been a substantial increase in its budget--to more than £100 million in 1994-95. In 1995-96, that will increase to about £135 million--an increase of almost 28 per cent. over the original budget for 1994-95. Its mission is no less than the achievement of a culture change in all sectors. To achieve that, it uses a wide variety of measures, including: publicity to raise awareness; dialogue with industry and


Column 942

consumers; technical advice to overcome barriers to action; financial and other incentives where funds are unavailable; the stimulation of innovation and new technology; and legislation and regulation where that is necessary.

The Energy Efficiency Office does, of course, offer programmes that go much wider than the domestic sector and housing. In the industry, commerce and business sectors it provides advice and guidance to help overcome any barriers to action and to enable people to take informed decisions on how to invest in energy efficiency.

The best practice programme, with a budget in the current year of £17 million, provides authoritative advice and information on improving energy efficiency. Energy consumption guides show users of energy how they compare with others in their sector. Good practice guides and case studies show what can be done in real situations. There is also support towards research and development.

The programme, which began in 1989, aims to generate savings worth £800 million per annum and C O savings of 5 million tonnes a year by 2000. By 1994, it had achieved savings of £300 million and 2 million tonnes of carbon per year. Its target audience includes decision makers and their professional advisers in industry, commerce, buildings and the public sector. It has generated more than 50,000 inquiries, produced nearly 1,200 publications, and organised more than 900 events.

The programme is backed by a network of 11 regional energy efficiency offices, which promote good environmental management and energy efficiency measures across the United Kingdom. The staff of those offices make about 2,500 visits each year to advise organisations on good environmental management and the benefit of implementing energy efficiency measures.

A commitment to energy efficiency by top management in the private and public sectors is being developed through the "making a corporate commitment" campaign. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) said that at least one of his local councils had made that commitment. About 1,800 organisations are now signatories. They agree to develop or reassess their energy management strategy; give board-level responsibility--if that is appropriate, as in the private sector--for taking the strategy forward; set performance targets and monitor and evaluate their performance; motivate staff; and ensure regular consideration of plans at board level.

The campaign is producing results and helping to raise the profile of energy efficiency and provide a focus for action. More than 260 local authorities have already signed up to the campaign. It is hoped that this commitment will help to facilitate energy conservation by tenants.

The Government are also aiming to set an example in their own estate.

Mr. Bennett: Although all those Government measures are welcome, will the Minister confirm that, in evidence to the Select Committee on the Environment, the Department made it clear that the main thrust of Government effort would be through the Energy Saving Trust? How will that be financed?

Mr. Jones: As I said a moment ago, we are reviewing progress towards the targets and the way in which events have changed. All sorts of different factors are at work,


Column 943

including the change in VAT. The role and the financing of the Energy Saving Trust are extremely important. They must be considered in the context of those different factors and, as I said earlier, what happens to Ofgas.

The Government have set an example in their own estate. They have set themselves a challenging target of improving energy efficiency by 15 per cent. over the five years ending in March 1996, and will be setting targets beyond that.

I am sure that all hon. Members share my delight at learning that the Palace of Westminster is itself setting an example by installing new high energy efficiency lamps behind the faces of the clock. That represents some advance from the original Victorian gas lamps. I congratulate those responsible on the Accommodation and Works Committee and the Director of Parliamentary Works and his staff.

Mrs. Maddock: I am glad that the Minister has congratulated those responsible. Those energy conservation lamps were switched on last night, which is nice when one considers what we are discussing today.

Mr. Jones: There is still a lot to do. We only need to go around the building to realise that it is often either too hot or too cold. The Bill, however, is about energy efficiency in homes.

Mr. Jenkin: According to the Bill, would the Palace of Westminster constitute an energy conservation authority, given that there are some tenants in the building?

Mr. Jones: The Palace would be in the same position as a number of other buildings in which people live. The proper authorities would have to take them into account in their strategies. I hope that it would not be necessary for others to push us too hard. I speak as an ordinary Member of the House, as opposed to a Minister, when I say that I hope that we will do more and more to make the House an efficient place in which to work or to live. If a combined heat and power scheme was proposed for the House, I hope that it would be seized, as it is a key ingredient of energy efficiency. I hope that those who are responsible will listen to that message.

One of the main challenges in the housing sector is improving awareness of what the individual householder can do to reduce his fuel bills or improve his comfort levels and so protect the environment. The current "Wasting energy costs the earth" initiative is part of our campaign to educate householders on the link between energy use in the home and the threat of climate change, and the cost-effective use of energy. More importantly, it is aimed at bringing about changes in behaviour. Hon. Members may have seen the television commercials featuring the dinosaurs Ron, Brenda and Billy and their draughty home. A Dino Dome roadshow featuring the same characters and messages is touring the country.

As part of that initiative, the Government have produced a pack for children, which helps them to understand the link between the efficient use of energy, CO emissions and the threat of climate change. The pack also contains useful information on energy saving around the home. Children are, as many hon. Members will acknowledge, particularly concerned about environmental issues, and can often spur their elders into action--although their concern sometimes outstrips their ability to remember to turn lights off.


Column 944

The hon. Member for Christchurch mentioned Newark and Sherwood. It is interesting to note that young children were used to carry out the energy audit there. Such initiatives not only make the audit more cost-effective but involve the future generation. Little Jenny or Johnny quite likes going up into the loft to measure with a ruler the thickness of insulation or whatever. We should try to encourage such involvement.

The campaign we have launched emphasises that the average household can reduce energy consumption by 20 per cent. by taking a few simple and inexpensive measures. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish spoke about those who could not afford to take such measures. Quite a few can be taken at no cost, at little cost or at costs applied through the taxpayer through the home energy efficiency scheme. The other day, after dark, I was travelling back through east London. I noticed that many homes had not got their curtains drawn in either living rooms or bedrooms. That is absurd, because it just lets heat escape for no good reason. People must learn to think about such heat loss.

Changes in behaviour can include draught-proofing; low-energy light bulbs; loft insulation, and others. Average CO emissions can be reduced by between 1 tonne and 6.5 tonnes each year, and savings of up to £100 made on fuel bills.

I welcome what hon. Members on both sides of the House have said about the home energy efficiency scheme. It is a high-quality scheme which provides advice and grants for basic energy efficiency measures for householders over 60 years old, householders receiving income-related benefits and householders receiving disability living allowance. It is administered by the Energy Action Grants Agency on behalf of the Government.

With effect from 1 April 1995, the HEES budget will be increased to more than £100 million--a 45 per cent. increase on the figure for 1994-95. That money will provide grants for almost 600,000 households per year. Among its many benefits, HEES helps to improve comfort and reduce fuel bills of recipients, save energy and improve the housing stock. More than 1 million homes have been treated since the scheme began in 1991--not a few hundred thousand, as the hon. Member for Christchurch said. That does not include those who have benefited from other ways of supporting energy conservation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) spoke about that in his speech, and I suspect that his allusions were drawn from his experience of visiting one of the installations in his constituency. I welcome the fact that all hon. Members are being involved in that process, because it emphasises the importance of not only the ends but what the HEES installers do, and their helpfulness and efficiency.

Mr. Bennett: If the Minister estimates that 1 million homes have been improved in that way, will he tell us how many more homes he expects will need to be treated? Would it not be reasonable to try to speed that


Column 945

programme, welcome as the money is? There is a big advantage in those homes being treated this year rather than next year or the year after.

Mr. Jones: I thought that the thrust of the hon. Lady's Bill was that we did not know that, and that we needed to know it to plan. That no doubt is why the hon. Gentleman will vote for it. On local authority housing stock, housing authorities are expected to incorporate energy efficiency practices and programmes fully into the housing investment programme process. A council's performance in that respect is one of the key factors considered in determining the way in which resources are allocated. That provides a clear incentive to local authorities to have a well-thought-out policy and programme, and to show in their housing strategies that energy efficiency measures are an integral part of their housing programmes. Although, no doubt, many local authorities have gone down the road that they have as a result of their own commitments and interest in the subject, I cannot help thinking that the use of that incentive scheme by the Government is a reason why many more have done so. I believe that that is the key.

Even if the hon. Lady's Bill reached the statute book, there would be a gap between now and the time when that happened, just as there has been a gap since the date when the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed introduced his Bill. The Government will press on with their own initiatives to get things moving, because we recognise, as does the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, that we do not want time to be lost.

The green house demonstration programme, with about £60 million of funding during its three-year life, established a network of more than 180 replicable energy efficiency demonstration schemes to encourage local authorities to develop and apply energy efficiency strategies to their housing. Consolidated guidance on energy efficiency in council housing issued in June 1994 provides authorities with practical advice on developing effective energy efficiency policies and programmes.

The process also ensures that the Department is well informed about energy efficiency strategies, although no doubt one of the consequences of the reports that are incorporated in the hon. Lady's Bill is that we would receive even more information and I would not have to chase up local authorities quite so much.

Mrs. Maddock: The Minister is discussing where we should put our resources. As he spoke, it occurred to me that the significant advantage of our proposals in the Bill is that they differ from the green house programme, in which, previously, money was given to local authorities that were extremely keen, and perhaps had already gathered the knowledge, although the need might have been greater in many other places. Will the Minister consider that fact when he helps to draw up timetables, so that some of the green house money will go not simply to where local authorities are keen, but to where the need is?

Mr. Jones: That is why we took the steps that we did with the HIP strategy, and why I have probed local authorities when I have done my share of the rounds talking to them about their strategies. It is also, if I may say so, why I have decided that the Department should


Column 946

hold a seminar for the chairmen and chief officers of the relevant departments of the local authorities that are not perhaps as aware of the need to learn from the best practice of others. A great deal of sharing can take place, and I should like to build on that. In addition to what the green house demonstration programme has achieved, the building research energy conservation unit, in association with the private sector, has held 40 seminars throughout the country in the past 18 months, called "Energy Efficiency Training for Housing Professionals", to provide general energy efficiency advice and guidance for local authority staff. Further seminars are planned, as are similar events for housing action trusts and housing associations. I pay tribute to the performance of housing associations, which has been impressive.

In April last year, we amended one of the rules about local authorities' entitlement to housing revenue account subsidy in a way that should help encourage energy efficiency measures. Local authorities should no longer lose housing subsidy when giving tenants choice about improvements and services. Under the modular improvements rule, tenants can be offered improvement schemes which are offered to tenants in return for an increase in rent; we encourage councils to offer energy efficiency improvements in that way.

Householders in the private sector may need financial help to take energy efficiency measures. Our guidance encourages authorities to consider the use of house renovation grant resources for energy efficiency works as part of an overall strategy. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) kindly expressed his appreciation for what my Department has made available in additional resources for the renovation strategy in Eastbourne --about £900,000. My hon. Friend badgers the Department constantly on behalf of his local authority, and I have no doubt that those whose conditions are improved as a result will be grateful to him.

House renovation grants enable authorities to help low-income households with the cost of repairs and improvements, including energy efficiency. Minor works assistance can also be given, to provide or improve thermal insulation for those on various income-related benefits.

As well as ensuring that the existing housing stock is made more energy- efficient, it is important that newly built accommodation is designed and constructed with energy efficiency in mind. New building regulations for England and Wales come into force later this year, with the aim of conserving energy. The new regulations will include a requirement for all new dwellings to obtain a standard assessment procedure rating.

The SAP is the Government's home energy rating system, which gives householders valuable information about the energy efficiency of their property. Builders will be required to notify local authorities of the energy rating of each new dwelling that they construct, whether they are new buildings or obtained by the conversion of existing buildings.

The revised requirements for conservation of fuel and power will improve the energy efficiency in new buildings of all types by between 25 and 35 per cent., compared with similar buildings built to comply with current requirements. It is estimated that the improvement


Column 947

will lead to cumulative savings of a quarter of a million tonnes of carbon a year in the year 2000, progressively saving more thereafter.

Combined heat and power, which I referred to earlier, is the process that uses heat normally wasted to the atmosphere, and it is an integral part of the Government's energy efficiency and environmental strategy. As part of the climate change programme, we increased our already demanding target to 5,000 MW of installed capacity by the year 2000. At present, we have about 3,000 MW, and are making good progress. Several local authorities use CHP in their district heating schemes. For example, I am aware of CHP-based district heating schemes in Waltham Forest, Nottingham, Southampton, Stockton on Tees, North Avon and Bristol, to name but a few. Other agencies have an important role to play in promoting energy efficiency in the home-- not least local authorities, about which I shall say more later. There are aspects in which the European Union is involved, especially in relation to the labelling of products to indicate those that are less harmful to the environment. The ecolabelling scheme identifies products that are less harmful to the environment than equivalent brands and encourages the design, production and use of such products to achieve real environmental gain.

Mr. Bennett: Slowly.

Mr. Jones: Slowly.

The United Kingdom is developing product criteria in consultation with relevant groups, and some have been adopted already. The UK plays a leading role in the development of that scheme, and I think that it would be faster if other countries were to follow our lead. This month, the United Kindom implemented a European Union directive covering energy labelling of domestic fridges and freezers, some of the heaviest consumers of energy in the home. The directive requires that energy information labels should be fixed to such appliances offered for sale. Consumers will therefore in future have access to information on which appliances are most energy efficient. Efficient new appliances can save more than 40 per cent. of energy use. Since domestic electrical appliances account for about 20 per cent. of total electricity consumption in the UK, that will make a significant contribution to the UK's carbon dioxide reduction targets. Similar directives covering washing machines and tumble driers are expected to come into force on 1 January 1996. Manufacturers and retailers are already responding to those measures by developing and marketing products that use less energy to do the same job.

Standards for the efficiency of new central heating boilers and on mandatory labelling of domestic appliances have been agreed in the European Community and already have been adopted by the UK. The UK is also fully supportive of the EC's energy efficiency programme--SAVE. As the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish said, mortgage lenders have a key role to play in relation to the private housing market. I have described how our housing investment programme process helps to ensure that authorities take full account in their housing investment decisions of the need to improve the energy efficiency of their own housing.


Column 948

We want private householders, too, to make their homes more energy-efficient--important momentum can be generated by taking a close interest in energy efficiency when a property changes hands. We are working closely with the mortgage lenders to encourage them to incorporate home energy ratings in their survey reports and to offer green loans or other financial services to improve energy efficiency. That will provide house buyers with valuable information. One building society is already doing that on a full basis, and another is doing so on a pilot basis.

The Bill rightly focuses on the role of the local authority. It can do a great deal, both as a housing authority and as a body with means and opportunities to disseminate information to residents in its area. Central and local government are working closely, through the Central and Local Government Environment Forum, and its related energy efficiency working group, to carry forward an energy efficiency initiative in local government.

The local authority associations endorsed a target of reducing energy consumption in their members' non-housing buildings by 15 per cent. over a five-year period, demonstrating local government's commitment to energy efficiency. According to what the hon. Member for Nottingham, South said, it seems that some local authorities have set even more demanding targets.

A recent survey of all local authorities revealed that much is being done. Just over a third of all authorities responded. Some 64 per cent. of the authorities in the sample had an energy manager and almost the same number had integrated energy efficiency fully incorporated into their management structure. The indications were that 90 per cent. of the sample would soon have a formal corporate energy plan.

The authorities can also pull together thinking in their districts--co- ordinating with industry, schools, further education establishments, commerce and householders--and galvanise local action. Many have shown that that can be undertaken within existing budgets, without the need for additional resources or powers. I outlined some of the imaginative ways in which local authorities are approaching energy efficiency in my speech in the House on 1 November last year. On that occasion, I mentioned the highly commendable performance of Dacorum borough council, part of which is in my constituency. If I may be forgiven for praising what is going on in my own area again, I should mention that the authority has integrated energy efficiency into its housing strategy and has long-term strategic energy efficiency aims, objectives and targets--not least of which is the plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the council's stock by at least 1 tonne per dwelling per year by 1998. The strategy is well founded and appropriate, and clearly the same sort of thinking informs the Forest Heath and Bury St. Edmunds councils.

Let me inform the House of a few more authorities that are tackling energy efficiency--a few out of a large number. Islington London borough has profiled its stock and aims to bring all stock up to the standard of the current building regulations by 2002.

Cambridgeshire county council is running a "switch-on to energy savers" campaign until the end of this month. The campaign is in partnership with its schools and Eastern Electricity, to provide energy-saving light bulbs to parents at a discounted price.


Next Section

  Home Page