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Woodspring district council is one of the increasing number of local authorities that have completed a 100 per cent. audit of their housing stock. Energy efficiency is incorporated in a five- year programme with quantifiable targets.

I have already mentioned the trend for authorities to take fuller account of energy efficiency in their housing strategies. On the wider front, they have a duty under the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 to consider annually housing conditions in their districts. Departmental guidance published last November gives authorities advice and a detailed survey methodology to enable them to undertake local house condition surveys in the course of discharging that duty.

Mr. Jenkin: The authorities that my hon. Friend describes are obviously model authorities in terms of energy conservation. Would the Bill require them to carry out extra duties, or would their existing activities meet the Bill's requirements?

Mr. Jones: I suspect that, other than producing a specific report, the best local authorities will be able to continue very much as they are. That was the point that I made when I spoke in the earlier debate. But some local authorities are not so good, and the Bill codifies what we were doing using other methods. Sometimes, the House prefers to do that by legislation rather than by exerting Government pressure--today's debate recognises that. We have given the local councils guidance on that methodology.

Collecting information on heating and energy forms an integral part of the survey methodology. Our current research into the fitness standard introduced by the 1989 Act includes a study of minimum energy efficiency standards, and we shall be appraising the findings carefully. I hope that that account of the many initiatives which are already in hand in energy efficiency confirms the Government's commitment.

The hon. Member for Christchurch would, I think, be surprised if I were to say that the Government were entirely content with all the Bill's provisions--I certainly cannot surprise the hon. Lady in that sense. But I am happy to acknowledge that she has addressed many of the concerns that we expressed about last Session's Bill. I will not pretend that, if the House gives the Bill a Second Reading, the Committee stage will be entirely free of Government amendments, but I will give the hon. Lady and the House an assurance that the Government's approach will be constructive, and their aim will be to make it a better Bill.

Northern Ireland was mentioned. I want to make it clear that I have no objection in principle to the Bill being applied to Northern Ireland, but there are various ways of doing that. Perhaps the hon. Lady would like to give that matter some thought before Committee stage. I would be happy to continue the helpful discussions on the Bill that I had with the hon. Lady in the period before the Bill was published. Those discussions have, I think, resulted in a greater understanding on both sides.

The general principles that will guide us in considering amendments to the Bill will, I think, be readily understood by the House. We will want to ensure that any new duties placed on local authorities by the Bill are the minimum

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necessary to achieve its aims. We will want, too, to ensure that local and central Government are able to build to the maximum extent possible on existing procedures and information in complying with the Bill's provisions, in order to avoid unnecessary extra costs. We regard it as important that the Bill's purpose should be to provide a tool to help central and local government in decisions on the application of existing resources, and thus to secure the maximum value for money in terms of energy efficiency. I do not think that any of those principles will cause the hon. Lady and the House any difficulties. They will form the basis of the Government's approach to the Bill in Committee.

Mr. Bennett: Will the Minister confirm that, not only is he giving the Bill his support today, but he is encouraging the Whips to ensure that the Bill is allowed to make progress at 2.30 pm?

Mr. Jones: I am speaking on behalf of the Government and, as far as I know, my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Patronage Secretary's Office are members of the Government.

I congratulate the hon. Lady again on her Bill, and wish her well in piloting it through the waters that lie ahead. No doubt I shall be with her in one of the lifeboats bobbing around on the waters. I look forward to our continuing relationship in discussions on a Bill on an extremely important subject, which was for many years neglected, at a cost to our environment and to those who live in draughty and energy-inefficient homes. If we can do something to improve those conditions, it will be a good thing.

12.18 pm

Ms Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): When I spoke in the debate on the Energy Conservation Bill on 1 November, I concluded with the words:

"if the Government do not change their attitude and should the opportunity arise through success in private Members' ballots, someone on the Opposition side . . . will be back to press the Government again and again on this vital issue of energy conservation in people's homes."--[ Official Report , 1 November 1994; Vol. 248, c. 1384.]

It was hardly a prediction that needed a crystal ball. The Bill, which was introduced by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), enjoyed all-party support--indeed, the support of 400 right hon. and hon. Members--yet it was talked out by the Government and, ultimately, deplored by the Minister, the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), who has just spoken.

Such deplorable behaviour could not go unchallenged. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock), having won the No. 1 place in the ballot for private Members' Bills, should have brought a very similar Bill--the Home Energy Conservation Bill--to the House. She does so with the support of an even wider range of people, and there is tremendous determination, on these Benches at least, to see that the will of the House is not again thwarted by a mean-spirited and short-sighted Government.

In that context, I congratulate hon. Members on both sides of the House on their sponsorship of the Bill. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), who has not only sponsored this Bill but introduced his own Bill--the Energy-Saving Materials (Rate of Value Added Tax)

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Bill--which we will debate next. I note that the Minister failed to answer the question about the Government's attitude to that Bill. I ask him whether he will take the opportunity to do that now, as he failed to do so in his winding-up speech. It is clear to the House that he refuses to do so and, as I continue my remarks, it will become clear why that is so.

Yesterday, the Secretary of State for the Environment told the nation about the pivotal role that local authorities could play in monitoring air pollution. Earlier in the week, he issued guidance about sustainable development. The Government are getting very good at the jargon but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said so eloquently today, they still cannot work out the economics. They are keen on monitoring--but only so far. They are less keen on taking remedial action, particularly if it costs money.

The Government cannot have it both ways. Environmental protection and energy conservation require the expenditure of money. It is called "investment", but it pays--sometimes quite quickly, always in the long term. In the case of this Bill, initial expenditure is expected to pay dividends not only in enabling people to keep warm at home but in reducing fuel bills, in conserving energy and by contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gases.

Ministers would have us believe that they share every one of those objectives, but their problem is that they have no strategic view. They have systematically squandered our national energy resources, made every aspect of energy efficiency more difficult by privatising the utilities, failed to place appropriate energy conservation duties upon the regulators and, as a number of my hon. Friends have pointed out, produced a complete fiasco in the Energy Saving Trust.

Mr. Nigel Evans: Will the hon. Lady tell the House whether a future Labour Government will therefore renationalise the power utility companies?

Ms Ruddock: We will certainly deal with the question of regulation in the interests of the consumers and we will ensure that the regulators are not able to frustrate the will of Government in terms of the Energy Saving Trust.

Mr. Jenkin: If that is the case, the hon. Lady should withdraw the charge that she made about the effect of privatisation, because the ownership of utility companies is clearly not the issue. She may wish to discuss other aspects of energy conservation and the utility companies, but ownership is not the issue.

Ms Ruddock: Ownership has produced a different environment in which it has become extremely difficult to have meaningful energy conservation. The utilities have been placed in competition with each other, to the detriment of consumers and the environment. I do not concede in any sense to the hon. Gentleman on that point. The Labour party in government will ensure that our energy suppliers, our energy regulators and our consumers get a far better deal, through Government intervention, than they have received under this Government.

Mr. Jenkin: The onus is on the hon. Lady to be specific. What measures is she talking about?

Ms Ruddock: I have been absolutely specific: I am talking about energy conservation and the ability to raise money for that purpose, which is the purpose that the

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Government had in mind when they established the Energy Saving Trust. The Government proposed that the privatised utilities should themselves contribute towards the Energy Saving Trust. The regulators have refused to do so on their behalf. That is totally unacceptable and it has made complete nonsense of the sops that the Government gave to the country and the consumers when they went ahead with privatisation.

The Minister was clearly unable to answer the very pertinent points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish about the contribution to energy conservation made by charging value added tax. Energy efficiency strategies are useless if they are incapable of being measured. The Government have failed to show how their strategy of imposing VAT on fuel has produced meaningful results.

The Bill will not suffer from that weakness. It offers the Government a real opportunity. Its merits have been described with great clarity by the hon. Member for Christchurch, and I congratulate her on the skill with which she redrafted the measures in an attempt to gain Government support. We would have preferred duties rather than powers, but we accept that the Bill offers great scope to those local authorities that seriously seek to further energy conservation.

The Labour party wholeheartedly supports the hon. Lady's efforts. In 1991, our policy document, "Green Households", made similar proposals and in our major environment document, "In Trust for Tomorrow", we propose a national programme of energy efficiency works.

Labour councils up and down the land have done pioneering work and have demonstrated the gains that could be made by implementing the measures laid down in the Bill. Those gains would not only be immediate for the householder but include the long-term improvement of housing stock and the creation of much-needed jobs.

My local authority, the London borough of Lewisham, has undertaken an energy audit of its housing stock. It has used housing investment programme moneys to undertake the insulation of older housing stock and it has surveyed public buildings under its ownership to identify the scope for energy-saving measures; yet, in common with so many other willing and progressive authorities, it finds itself short of the necessary funds.

Thousands of my constituents are cold this winter. Many of them are elderly, are in poor health or are the parents of young children. Frankly, I am sickened and angry when they come to my surgeries-- sickened because I can feel their misery, and angry because they are asking for so little, yet they cannot get the help that they need. We have heard again today that the Government are proud of their various schemes and of how many households could benefit, but the reality on the ground often seems somewhat different.

In mid-December, I had cause to write to the Secretary of State about the home energy efficiency scheme after an elderly constituent with a sick husband tried to obtain help. She was told that no money was left and that she would have to wait until more became available in the spring--after the cold weather had passed. The Minister with responsibility for energy efficiency replied four weeks later, saying that he was sorry about my constituent's disappointment. He added: "This does not mean that the scheme is underfunded. It is, however, in the nature of cash limited schemes that only a limited number of grants can be paid out of the available budgets."

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I respectfully suggest that the budget was too small. I cannot think of any everyday misery greater than being old and cold, yet we may be sure that people are still dying of cold in this country, millions suffer damp and mouldy homes, and even more millions of households cannot heat a single room to modern standards. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Wicks) did well to remind the House of the shocking statistics for hypothermia deaths, which are a national disgrace.

Let me turn to some more examples, although I endorse much that was said by the Minister about the progress that has been made. Many local authorities have done their best to raise energy efficiency standards. Kirklees metropolitan council established a project in 1993 to examine energy efficiency and the type of programme needed. The resulting affordable warmth and energy efficiency strategy provides concrete evidence of the caring and imaginative work that can be done by local authorities. The strategy's aim is to enable tenants to reduce fuel bills to a more affordable level by providing a programme of insulation, ventilation and heating combined with education and advice. All Kirklees council homes are currently being energy rated with a view to targeting investment at the least energy-efficient buildings. The advice service is available to all residents. A pilot survey of private sector housing has also been undertaken and more work is planned.

That record begs the question that was often asked by Conservative Members in last November's debate. If councils have such comprehensive strategies and considerable success, why is such a Bill required? The answer is that Kirklees and Lewisham are among the best authorities. We must place new demands on the worst, and we should impose on all housing authorities a duty to assess the energy efficiency of residential accommodation in their ownership and to take reasonable steps to assess potential energy savings in all other residential accommodation in their areas.

The Bill provides for just that--a national strategy, locally implemented, that could bring affordable warmth to all our people. It would also raise consciousness of energy conservation, reduce domestic energy bills and contribute to the vital task of reducing greenhouse gases. I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch on her success to date, and I wish her well and the Bill a speedy and successful passage in Committee.

12.32 pm

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I also congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on her success in the ballot. There is consensus throughout the House on the Bill's general aims. I represent a rural constituency in the north-west which, although it is beautiful, suffers at times from bitterly severe weather. My constituency, more than most, would benefit from the Bill becoming law.

I have received many letters from not only constituents but parish councils, which have held meetings about the subject, and local authorities in Ribble valley. They are all delighted to see the Bill come before the House. It renews the attempt to require local authorities to draw up energy conservation plans for residential properties. The Bill aims to make provision for the drawing up of energy conservation plans and priorities in the UK to secure the

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more efficient and effective use of natural resources. It also aims to give the Secretary of State for the Environment powers to set timetables for such plans and works arising from them, and for other related purposes. As I said, the Bill has cross-party support. I support the main tenets of the Bill, which include giving every energy conservation authority the duty to

"assess the energy efficiency of residential accommodation in its ownership;"

and to

"take reasonable steps to assess or estimate the potential for improvement in the energy efficiency of other residential accommodation in its area."

Each energy conservation authority then has the onus to investigate ways of reducing consumption--the target is a 30 per cent. reduction-- and to publish a report on that. It is an ambitious target, and it is something that we have to aim for.

The other main tenet of the Bill is that the energy conservation authority must regularly check the atmosphere for emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide, and assess ways of decreasing those levels. That is also vital. The Bill demands that there be regular liaison between the energy conservation authorities and the Secretary of State.

The hon. Member for Christchurch has been gracious in stating that the Government have already been active on the issue. On 25 January last year, the United Kingdom became the first country to respond to the convention on climate change that was signed at the Rio summit in June 1992. The UK published "Climate Change: The UK Programme", which set out the contribution that central and local government, business, industry and individuals will make to achieve the reduction in the UK's greenhouse gas emissions.

The programme set out a detailed package of measures and energy saving targets for central and local government and other public bodies. It also strengthens the Energy Efficiency Office's programme of advice and information, to which I shall return in a moment.

Mr. Spring: Does my hon. Friend agree that the whole point about the Government's approach to the matter is that their targets are realistic and sensible? It is all very well being critical about targets that cannot ever be reached. The whole point about the Government's targets is that they are achievable. There is no point in having a fantasy of what is achievable, and that it is why the targets and achievements as set out by the Government are so sensible.

Mr. Evans: The Government's approach to the matter has been consistent. We have been working towards those targets for a long time, and we shall be working towards them for a long time in the future. I do not believe that we shall ever be able to relax about energy conservation. As we go into the future, it will be more important that we look at fresh measures, such as new technology and the contribution that it can make to energy conservation. We desperately need to do that.

Another aspect of the programme is the commitment to further increases in fuel duties, which we have seen in several Budgets. I should like to sound a cautionary note about that. I represent a rural constituency, and one must always take note of the need that people who live in rural areas have for their transportation and cars. I hope that

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that will be taken on board in future Budgets, and that assistance can be given to people who desperately need their vehicles in rural areas.

We have heard about the imposition of VAT on fuel during the debate, and my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) made a pertinent point about the matter. I do not believe that everybody in the debate has been consistent in his or her approach, and I refer in particular to the Labour party. Labour Members have been happy to criticise the introduction of VAT on fuel while arguing for tougher environmental targets.

The Labour party criticised the Government for dragging their feet on global warming during the Rio summit. The Opposition environment spokesman at that time--the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor)--said that more could have been achieved, and that British Ministers could have played a more positive role, particularly in respect of global warming. As ever, the Labour party has failed to make it clear how it would hope to meet such targets. The cynicism behind Labour's approach is transparent.

Ms Ruddock: There is no inconsistency in what I have said or in what my predecessors have said on those matters. We have always opposed the introduction of VAT on domestic fuel. We maintain that it is possible to do more and to do so more quickly while having rigorous standards. I shall be happy to send the hon. Gentleman the Labour party document entitled "In Trust for Tomorrow", which sets out clearly a sustainable energy policy within the context of sustainable growth, and demonstrates the ways in which that can be achieved. There is no weakness on Opposition Benches in putting forward specific proposals. The weakness is on the Government side of the Chamber. Ministers have failed to demonstrate how imposing VAT on fuel has led in any way to energy conservation.

Mr. Evans: I fully appreciate why the hon. Lady is so sensitive on the issue. I shall be more than delighted to receive any policy papers on that issue and any others that the Labour party might care to send me. We are desperate to hear what some of its policies may happen to be.

I shall continue with my speech and refer to some policy papers of the past, which tend to show that the Government put forward the introduction of VAT on fuel as an energy conservation measure, and that the Labour party wished also to conserve energy and had its own plans to impose VAT on energy had it assumed power.

Mr. Peter Bottomley: Has my hon. Friend read this week's New Statesman ? I accept that it is not such a good read as The Spectator . It contains information about the changes in some of the responsibilities within the Labour party. Would my hon. Friend encourage the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) to send a copy of the paper to which she referred to Mr. Alastair Campbell, who now appears to be in charge of policy in the Labour party, to see whether the Opposition spokesman on environmental protection can get back into the shadow Cabinet? The New Statesman pointed out that the position had been downgraded along with the Labour party's proposals for securing environmental improvements.

Mr. Evans: I am extremely grateful for the information that has been provided by my hon. Friend. After my speech, I shall rush to the Library to read the article in

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the New Statesman for myself. I am delighted to hear that somebody is in charge of Labour party policy, whether it be Alastair Campbell or anyone else.

The Labour party made it clear in its 1990 policy review document "Looking to the Future" that it planned to introduce VAT on fuel if it were elected. Under the heading "Value Added Tax", the Labour party explained:

"We will use . . . the tax system, as well as regulation, to help protect the environment. . . We will look at . . . ways of reducing taxes on environmentally safe products and increasing them on environmentally damaging products."

The document also stated that

"zero-rating on items such as food, fares, books and children's clothing should remain as an essential part of the VAT system." There is no mention of domestic fuel in the document. Labour clearly intended to extend VAT as one of its green measures. At exactly the same time, Labour Members of the European Parliament unequivocally called for the introduction of environmental taxes and "green VAT". I know what the Labour party leader's view is towards Labour MEPs at present; I am not too sure whether it was exactly the same in 1990. In their report, they stated:

"In promoting the environmental transformation of industry, we need to use every possible policy--environmental taxes and charges as well as regulations. There may, for instance, be scope for a `green VAT' as part of the harmonisation of indirect taxes."

That passage appeared in a document entitled "The New Europe 1990."

When a Conservative Government subsequently decided to extend VAT to domestic fuel in line with other European countries, Labour was quick to condemn the move. Despite all that, Labour continued to support an energy tax in the European Parliament and in its consultation documents.

In 1993, Labour's MEPs signed a European socialist white paper, which stated that the Community must take a number of steps, including

"agreement on tough and binding targets for CO emission reductions into the next century and a strategy for achieving them by means of the adoption of an energy tax."

I know that the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) is keen to intervene to refute some of the allegations that I have made. I think that the House will be interested to hear what she has to say about what Labour's MEPs were saying and about the contents of Labour party policy documents.

Ms Ruddock: I think that I should send the hon. Gentleman masses of Labour party documents--he could keep coming to the House and quoting--then he would learn something about how a policy is made. We do make proposals. We do discuss them, then we come to policy. Nothing that he has said shows that we promised the party or the electorate at any time that we would impose VAT on fuel. The hon. Gentleman stood in the previous general election on the Prime Minister's promise that there would be no extension of VAT. I ask him to consider who is misleading the electorate.

Mr. Evans: The answer is quite clear from the statements that I have read out. I know that the Labour party discusses and debates as part of its policy programme. It is just the policy bit that we are waiting for. We await it with bated breath.

Mr. Spring: Does my hon. Friend agree that although it is true that there are high levels of energy conservation

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and insulation in Scandinavia--references were made to that by Opposition Members--the rate of VAT payable on domestic fuel there is one of the highest anywhere in the European Union?

Mr. Evans: Yes, it is and if ever the Labour party formed the next Government and signed up to many of the measures that come from Brussels and, perhaps, did away with the veto and made it far more difficult through qualified majority voting for us to object to any of them, we might well have to sign up, whether the Labour party liked it or not, to some of the VAT and taxation measures on energy.

Mr. Jenkin: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): Order. I remember discussing VAT and energy matters for many hours in the Chamber during the Maastricht debate. I do not think that we want to go over the whole of that again this morning. Perhaps we can get on to the Bill.

Mr. Evans: I shall endeavour to do that.

Having dealt with the Labour party, I now turn my attention to the Liberal Democrats. I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch on introducing the measure, but the Liberal Democrats are very much in favour of a pan- European carbon tax. That might lead directly to the introduction of taxation on fuels. The Liberal Democrats and the Labour party seem to be at one on their attitude towards the European Community and signing up to everything that comes from Brussels. The Government are committed to promoting energy efficiency, because it represents one of the quickest and most cost-effective ways in which to tackle the problem of global warming. Energy efficiency measures contribute more than half of all the savings set out in the UK programme to meet the climate change convention target. The budget of the Energy Efficiency Office for 1994-95, as has been stated, has increased to more than £100 million--a 50 per cent. increase on the 1993-94 budget; and it has increased seventeenfold since 1979.

My hon. Friend the Minister has already gone through many of the energy efficiency programmes that we have in place, including the Energy Efficiency Office's best practice programme, which has a budget of £17 million. It has achieved much since its inception. The Department of the Environment's advertising and promotion campaign, "Wasting energy costs the earth", has been superb. I believe that we should do far more to try to get across, through television campaigns, the waste that is caused when one does not pay sufficient attention to home insulation, and what individuals and families could do to help reduce that waste. When one considers that more than a quarter of all carbon dioxide produced in this country comes from energy used in the home, it shows how important that is. By taking a few simple energy efficiency measures at home, the average family could reduce its energy consumption, as the Minister stated, by 20 per cent. and into the bargain reduce its fuel bills by some £100.

I fully support the building regulations that come into force on 1 July this year, which include a requirement to provide energy ratings for new dwellings and a requirement for conservation of fuel and power. The Bill

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focuses on domestic housing and emphasises the important role of local authorities. I am proud to say that, in my constituency, both Ribble Valley and Preston borough councils, as well as all the Ribble Valley parish councils, are very much in favour of home energy conservation and are active in that area.

Ribble Valley borough council has been especially assiduous in taking advantage of the grants available and using them to improve the energy rating of its homes. The council is often mentioned by the Energy Efficiency Office as being one of the best examples of a council making full use of whatever is available to reduce energy waste. I commend any hon. Member interested in energy conservation to contact his local authorities to find out what they are doing. I visited a council home in my area last year. At the time, it was being fitted with loft, tank, door and window insulation. My hon. Friend the Minister said that when he was driving around recently, he noticed houses where the curtains were open. So much energy is lost because of that. There is scope to provide more information, so that people become aware of the fact that, by taking simple measures, which cost nothing, they can reduce energy waste and save money.

Mr. Robert B. Jones: There are many similar examples. People who go out in the evenings or away for weekends often leave their central heating and hot water systems on the same settings as they use when they are there. A little thought, preparation and the use of simple controls--at no cost-- would save money and limit environmental damage. We must get across the message that people should first tackle no-cost measures, then low-cost measures and then, increasingly, those that require higher investment.

Mr. Evans: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. As has been said, some young people are aware of environmental issues and what they can do to conserve energy and limit damage to the planet. However, we need more programmes to get that message across to other youngsters. My hon. Friend joked about youngsters leaving lights on throughout the house and suggested the simple measure of turning the light off when leaving a room. He also mentioned the energy efficiency gains from using the new bulbs that conserve energy. I know that they cost more than traditional bulbs, but the saving achieved will more than pay for that in the long term. I hope that people will be educated not to take short-term measures which appear to be cheap, but which in fact cost money in the long run. Ribble Valley borough council has spent much of its grant for energy conservation on improving sheltered housing. It is vital that elderly people are kept warm. Many of the older generation are extremely careful with their money, but some of them overdo it. I have been into some of their homes where heating is restricted not just to one room, but to no room. I am fully conscious of the limited budgets within which many people have to operate, but I hope that more can be done to educate them about some of the simple measures, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Minister, that could be taken to keep their homes warm.

The council has used some of its own funds to ensure that more energy conservation measures are taken in its area. That practice should be encouraged because it results in large energy savings. My hon. Friend the Minister

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mentioned a figure of 20 per cent.; my council has mentioned 17 per cent. It is obvious that more can be done.

The hon. Member for Christchurch mentioned a vital issue--that although some local authorities, such as mine, follow best practice, others do not. That is why we need the Bill. Some people would benefit greatly from taking energy conservation measures in their homes. They might be ignorant of the possibilities available or unable to afford to take essential and necessary measures in the short term. Therefore, we must ensure that money is targeted at those who are most in need. Some people who can afford energy conservation measures are already following best practice, but there are others in the community who need help. We ought to target our resources and attention to some of those people. That will cost more in the short term, but it could save money in future.

As a result of the Rio summit, we are committed to doing more to protect our environment. The time for procrastination is long gone: now is the time for action. We have reacted well to calls to control emissions of, for example, CO and we must now work to deal with energy usage. No effort is required to say at a summit, "Yes, that is easy." That is rather like some of the things to which our European Union friends sign up and do not enact. We must take action. I am delighted at the way in which the Bill differs from the one that was presented by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon- Tweed (Mr. Beith). Earlier in the debate I spoke about transparency, and I know that the hon. Member for Christchurch knew exactly what I was referring to. It is amazing that when a clipboard mentality comes into operation, people at all levels--not just local authorities but people at Westminster, in Whitehall and within the European Community--interpret a measure to suit their own ends. Therefore, I am delighted that the limitations placed by the Bill on local authority officers in trying to formulate proposals are quite transparent. The hon. Lady referred to such officers as the thermal thought police. That is a delightful description of what we feared they would become under the earlier Bill.

Employment possibilities have been mentioned, as has a figure of 500,000 jobs. We cannot put a figure on the number of jobs that will be created, but they would be spread throughout the country and would be created not just by local authorities but by many private firms that would become involved in conservation measures. Employment is a useful by-product of the Bill. We need the Bill and energy conservation. If it was just another measure to create employment, I would be rather dubious about it. I support it because it produces so much good; it is less prescriptive and far more flexible than the earlier one, and has gained support in all parts of the House. I had hoped to hear more in the debate about Labour's policy. The hon. Member for Deptford has told me that her party has policies. But we do not quite know where they are. Perhaps, like some of the best laid plans or like Jaguar cars, people have forgotten where they put them. I hope that in speeches in the not too distant future, Labour will shed a little light on some of its policies, especially on energy conservation, because the country is waiting and listening. At the moment we hear nothing.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch on her Bill and I look forward to supporting it in all its stages.

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12.57 pm

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North): I shall speak briefly about the Bill and register my support and enthusiasm for it. I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock), and I am pleased to be present on an occasion of such encouraging consensus. Some hon. Members have thought it necessary to elaborate on some issues and decorate the debate with a semblance of confrontation, but it would be out of keeping with the spirit of the House if the debate did not have a dose of that.

It is nice to see the Bill in its latest incarnation. I appreciate the way in which the political parties have in turn supported the Bill. I understand that the Liberal Democrats have supported it from the beginning and that, after some initial reticence and scepticism, Labour decided to embrace it with enthusiasm. Of course, the minority parties, as they are called, have been enthusiastic all along. We must mention the Green party, without which the Bill would not have been devised or brought before the House, or attracted the backing that it has received. We should all appreciate the enormous input from that direction, and the general public also need to understand that.

I will not list the litany of organisations and agencies that have supported the Bill, as that has been done. There is every sign that the Government have also been convinced, which is most encouraging. I do not need to rehearse the rationale for the Bill, either, as that was covered in the Library research paper. I congratulate the author, partly because the paper puts the matter in context so excellently. It mentions the need to reduce pollution, especially CO emissions, to meet targets and to go well beyond them. There is no question about that--we must go well beyond stabilisation in 2000. We need policies that take us far beyond. The paper also mentions the need to reduce the rate of depletion of non-renewable resources, an aspect that we have not dealt with a great deal, which is also crucial.

We need to do all those things within the context of the relatively new concept of sustainable consumption. That is one of the buzz phrases that is part of the Rio process. I recommend to hon. Members a useful document that was produced by the Commission for Sustainable Development, following a seminar on sustainable consumption in Oslo in January 1994. The elaboration of what a sustainable pattern of consumption involves continues, and there is to be a further seminar in Norway on the subject.

Mr. Jenkin: The hon. Gentleman described the need to go much further with environmental targets and the reduction of damaging energy consumption. What is his view on nuclear power and the role that it can play in clean generation, rather than using the non-renewable resources that he clearly wishes to conserve?

Mr. Dafis: That is a path down which people will be increasingly invited to go in the years ahead, when we come face to face with the serious reality of how difficult it is to reduce CO emissions. We have to find ways other than nuclear energy. We must modify and radically reconsider our patterns of industrial production and consumption--that is what sustainable consumption, which forms part of sustainable development, is about.

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