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House of Commons

Friday 17 March 1995

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Home Energy Conservation Bill

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Clause 1


9.34 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Robert B. Jones): I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 12,after `information,' insert `advice,'.

The amendment takes account of the concern expressed in Committee that it should be clear that an energy conservation authority should be able to give advice to businesses in connection with energy conservation measures.

The hon Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) and members of the Committee were keen to encourage local authorities to work constructively with businesses to assist in energy conservation. My hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) seemed surprised that Opposition Members were keen for local authorities to work with the private sector. That is indeed a change of tack from their previous policy but one, nevertheless, which should be welcomed. The enthusiasm that I detected for local authorities and businesses to become partners in that way was noticeable. However, I pointed out in Committee that this did not, in my opinion, require specific mention of businesses on the face of the Bill, since such an inclusion would carry the temptation to cover just about everyone else as well.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), with his customary wisdom, suggested that we might consider the use of the words "advice" and "assistance" if they could seen to be adding anything worth while to the amendment that was being considered at the time. My hon. Friend will see that the amendment in my name indeed picks up on part of his observation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), expressed the wish that local authorities should be imaginative about their partnerships, and not just involve the business community. Schools, youth clubs, social clubs and magazines circulated within industry were cited as good examples of the various avenues which local authorities could go down and put to good use in their energy efficiency strategies. That demonstrates that businesses are not the be-all and end-all of partnership approaches in this area, and demonstrates precisely why I was concerned not to single out businesses for a particular mention on the face of the Bill, or to try to produce a

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catch-all definition without leaving out any group or organisation. I did not think that was the right approach, and undertook to reconsider.

The short and simple reference to "advice" in the amendment is the best way to take the matter forward. Advice can be directed at anyone an authority chooses.

As was rightly pointed out in Committee, businesses may have an important role in the implementation of energy conservation measures. In relation to our national programmes, businesses are involved in a number of ways, for example as approved contractors carrying out work under the home energy efficiency scheme--HEES--or as manufacturers or retailers participating in special promotions for equipment such as energy-saving light bulbs.

The HEES, of course, is working very well, and is administered for my Department by the Energy Action Grants Agency, EAGA, a private company in Newcastle. The agency approves installation companies to install whatever measures are deemed appropriate for a particular property, and has overall control of some £100 million worth of grants with effect from 1 April this year--a 45 per cent. increase on the current financial year--and will continue to add to the 1 million homes that have already benefited from the scheme in the first three years. I was recently privileged to be able to process the one millionth grant under the scheme, which I was pleased went, by coincidence, to one of my constituents.

The Energy Saving Trust, an independent organisation set up by the Government, British Gas, the 12 regional electricity companies, Scottish Power and Scottish Hydro-Electric is managing new programmes to promote the efficient use of energy by domestic and small business users. It has successfully involved businesses, for example, in its low-energy lighting scheme, which resulted in the sale of nearly as many low-energy light bulbs in eight weeks as had been sold the previous year.

Those are just two examples of the type of involvement that local authorities should be encouraging at a local level. Some have combined the enthusiasm of children for caring for the environment with business involvement through a scheme aimed at schoolchildren who were encouraged to persuade their parents to purchase low-energy light bulbs with the help of discounts agreed with the regional electricity company. I am also aware of a local authority that has involved schoolchildren in undertaking a survey of housing stock in its area, with the result being a basic but effective record of the energy efficiency of housing stock in its area.

Adding the word "advice" to the list of things covered by the term "energy conservation measures" in the Bill will ensure that authorities can include advice to businesses--or indeed other organisations which may be relevant in particular local circumstances--in the measures that they list in their reports. Advice may be directed at anyone, and singling out businesses as opposed to other organisations for mention on the face of the Bill might prove unnecessarily restrictive.

There is also no reason why a local authority should not involve businesses in other ways in the implementation of its energy efficiency strategy. As I have already said, help does not necessarily have to be restricted to the provision of advice alone. I also undertake that we shall draw authorities' attention to the scope for involving and

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co-operating with businesses in the guidance to be issued under clause 4. That will ensure that they consider the potential for involving businesses fully.

It is not the intention that the guidance will list all organisations, groups or businesses that local authorities should approach--that will be something for them to decide--and I would hope that many will already know which organisations locally can provide the best opportunity for spreading the energy efficiency message. I expect the guidance to provide appropriate pointers, especially to those who are less advanced than others.

I hope that my explanation will persuade hon. Members that there is good reason for the amended wording now proposed for this part of clause 1--a small but most important part--and that the amendment will be welcomed by the hon. Lady and by the House.

Mrs. Diana Maddock (Christchurch): I hope that hon. Members will support the amendment. The Bill presented on Second Reading contained provision for giving advice to householders, and advice and assistance to businesses, so I especially welcome the Minister's amendment, which he promised in Committee would be forthcoming. It is worth re-emphasising the fact that this is not a Bill that will force individuals to do things. However, local authorities are not expected to remain neutral on energy conservation. They should promote, inform, educate and advise in their attempts to persuade as many people as possible to tackle energy inefficiency in their homes.

I recently visited Sutton, where the council is carrying out infra-red surveys from the air, as other councils have done. Sutton has put the videos taken from the air on display, and experts are on hand to tell people why their homes may be leaking heat, and to advise them how best to tackle the inefficiencies.

That is the sort of thing that we should encourage councils and businesses to do. Incidentally, may I tell the Minister that I have never been against local councils and businesses co-operating? I have always thought that we should promote such co-operation, as I did as a councillor--and I know that many of my Liberal Democrat colleagues do precisely the same.

I hope that we have now killed any belief that the Bill will bring the thermal thought police into people's homes. Advice has always been the key to the Bill's success, and I urge all hon. Members to support the Minister's amendment, which I welcome.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North): I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on the Bill, which I certainly support. Indeed, it has wide support. The idea of thermal thought police horrifies us all, but I understand that those of us who wear them will still be allowed to wear our thermals--indeed, they probably save energy from outside sources.

I underscore what the Minister about the valuable work of the Energy Saving Trust. Although it is an information-giving body, what people positively need, whether as home owners or in their businesses, is advice. Information is one thing and advice is quite another. That is not a small semantic point. Those of us who are interested in language appreciate the importance of the difference between information and advice.

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I welcome the amendment because it will make the Bill more likely to promote activity, as the hon. Lady and the sponsors of the Bill intend. I have been associated with the sponsors and others interested in the Bill for a long time, and I think that people need specific advice that they can relate to their own properties, whatever those may be. That idea is implicit in the amendment. I am sure that the House will remember that I had the luck, or the skill--it was probably luck --to inspire the Chancellor of the Exchequer to put an extra £20 million into home insulation during the closing stages of the memorable debate on VAT on fuel.

Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham): My hon. Friend was so persuasive. 9.45 am

Mr. Greenway: The extra money will certainly help many people to achieve better home insulation based on the advice specified in the amendment. There is no doubt that people are fairly unaware of the importance of home insulation, and of how it can be carried out in a way that will not bung up their homes.

The other day I wrote to an elderly constituent who had complained about her heating bill. I can well understand that, because she is a lady of over 80 who is not very well, with high blood pressure and so on. She asked me what she could do, and I told her that I had just had the pleasure of being present at the inauguration of an excellent home insulation scheme in the home of her neighbour, Mrs. Dormer, in Greenford road, and said, "Why don't I try to arrange for something similar for you? It is available to all pensioners."

The lady wrote back to say that she did not want her home bunged up with windows that she could not open and doors that got stuck. Proper advice would reassure her that that was not likely to happen. Those of us who have been to see the work in homes and businesses will testify to the skill of those who carry it out and to the fact that it is convenient and does not bung up homes and businesses in any way.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire): My hon. Friend will be aware of the excellent ConservEnergy scheme funded in part by EAGA as well as by other organisations such as Esso. The scheme helps in the individual private homes of old people, by fitting draught excluders and so on. I have assisted by putting in draught excluder strips and various other items in the home of a pensioner in Stone, in my constituency, and I can assure my hon. Friend that I certainly did not bung it up.

Mr. Greenway: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. There is no limit to his talent; it is really tremendous. I inaugurated a scheme under the Home Energy Trust for Mrs. Dormer, whom I have already mentioned, and I did take a hammer and put in the last nail which had conveniently been left for me, but I must confess that I did nothing like the scale of work that my hon. Friend has told us about.

Mr. Fabricant: I was wearing an Esso ConservEnergy hat and apron at the time, and one local councillor told me that I looked very cute in them.

Mr. Greenway: My hon. Friend is not only a man of enormous talent and skill--

Ms Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): And a leader of fashion too.

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Mr. Greenway: Yes, that too. He excels in every way. I expect to see him running in the marathon soon-- [Hon. Members:-- "Wearing the hat."]--yes, wearing his helmet and anything else that will enhance energy saving and raise money for good causes.

I must return to the Bill, as I am sure you will require me to do, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I support the amendment. The spirit in which it was moved by the Minister and accepted by the promoter of the Bill gives the House a proper hope that the Bill will succeed. If the Bill achieves its aims, we will have to congratulate not just the hon. Member for Christchurch, the Bill's sponsors and the many people who have thought out the valuable contribution to energy saving which the Bill will make, but my hon. Friend the Minister and the Government on their work in an area in which they are not given sufficient credit. The Government have produced some enormous achievements in energy saving.

I re-emphasise to all concerned in energy saving that advice is easily obtained, and that the Bill will enhance that position. When home or business insulation has been undertaken properly, savings to pensioners, businesses and others of some 33 per cent. can be achieved. I have heard of examples where energy bills have been halved following such action, and that can be nothing but helpful to the elderly and the sick, who have energy needs as we all do.

Mr. Merchant: The amendment is fairly narrowly drawn and that is something of a shame, as this is the first opportunity that I have had to participate in discussions on the Bill.

In supporting the amendment, I must say that I strongly support the thrust of the Bill, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on bringing it to the House. Energy conservation is an interest of mine, and I have been involved in a number of related projects. Only this week I was given second prize in a Waste Watch competition, for which I was given an energy-saving bulb. I declared that there was only one room in my house that did not have such a bulb, and that was why that prize was chosen. The reason why I like the Bill, which this amendment will not spoil, is that it has a light touch and yet goes to the heart of the problem. The difficulty with the Energy Conservation Bill which came before the House last year--great though it was in principle--was that it was somewhat heavy in practice and application. If the hon. Lady is a member of the thermal thought police, I am sure that she holds a fairly low rank. Her right hon. Friend the Member for

Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith)--who unfortunately has slipped off, no doubt on a covert operation--is, I think, secretly the chief of the thermal police. [Interruption.] I see that the right hon. Gentleman has finished his secret task.

The central theme of the Bill is the need to give good advice. That advice must not just go to householders--vital though they may be--but must be in the form of a partnership with businesses, and this amendment stresses the importance of a partnership with business. The Bill aims to espouse good practice, which all authorities should aim to follow in the pursuit of energy conservation and its promotion. Partnership has not always been popular. Like my hon. Friend the Minister, I remember when the old Labour party--now long-departed, or perhaps shortly departed--was not keen on encouraging a partnership with business.

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Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham): It has departed until after the next election.

Mr. Merchant: My hon. Friend is right. The old Labour party was not keen on fostering co-operation with business, and it even condemned the idea.

I am glad that Labour authorities, like others controlled by the other parties, are now keen to encourage partnership. We have seen partnership for business purposes in the encouragement of enterprise agencies and the regeneration of economic development. It is important that, in putting the message across on energy conservation and ensuring that the best means are adopted, the same sort of co-operation takes place.

The local authority which represents my constituency, Bromley, prides itself on being an enabling authority. I am sure that, in pursuit of the laudable objectives of this Bill, it would want to operate in conjunction with the suppliers of energy services and with suppliers in the area of energy conservation. For example, publicity for the use of low-energy bulbs and goods which will enable householders to operate in a more energy- conscious way could be produced in co-operation with local retailers and providers of electricity services.

The borough has encouraged co-operation with local newspapers in housing projects, and that could be continued into the area of energy conservation. One can even envisage authorities liaising with double glazing companies-- this would have to be done carefully--to promote the advantages of double glazing in terms of energy conservation. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to confirm that there is no exclusive need for partnership with business, and that that partnership can extend beyond business. It is important for local authorities and energy conservation authorities to extend that co-operation to the voluntary sector, including schools, youth clubs and magazines which have a great deal to contribute in this regard. Schools are particularly important, because sometimes the best way of encouraging parents to co-operate in a laudable scheme is to use children, who can be employed as an eye-catching means of promoting an objective by taking it home and sharing it with their parents. There is a lot that parents can learn from their children, and ultimately from the schools. With two young children of my own, I am continually reminded of that.

We must persuade people to spend their own money on energy conservation. There is a role for the public sector in providing grants and loans, but, to a large proportion of the population, they are not relevant. What matters is encouraging those people to spend their money on measures which they might not have thought about otherwise. Amending the Bill to encourage the giving of advice to organisations--particularly businesses--will help achieve that. The message that I am trying to encourage is that the Bill will work best as a partnership. It will work if local authorities and energy conservation authorities work closely with their local communities to put into effect the Bill's objective, and I hope that the amendment will achieve an improvement.

Finally, will my hon. Friend the Minister look carefully at the cost implications to local authorities of the Bill? My

authority--which has made it clear that it supports the Bill--is nevertheless concerned about its implications. Bromley is a well-managed local authority, and it

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obviously wants to take fully into account any cost implications for itself and for its council tax payers, while supporting the objectives of the Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend can give some guidance as to how authorities can defray the costs involved and to what extent they can bring in funds which can be redirected to the costs of the audits that they will be required to carry out. I welcome the amendment, which will improve the Bill, although perhaps only in a small way. I am glad also that it has given me the opportunity to register my strong support for the principle behind the Bill.

Mr. Jacques Arnold: I have come to the House of Commons this morning not only to support the Bill but to take part in the debate, and in particular to speak to the amendments. The first amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Minister is highly relevant. It puts the onus on local authorities to give advice on energy conservation. It is extremely important in this day and age that we seek to meet our Rio commitments on emissions and ensure proper energy conservation, which has an impact on the care of the elderly. It is important that authorities should provide the advice that is required. The amendment, which adds the word "advice" to the requirements placed on the housing authorities, is highly relevant.

In the borough of Gravesham, the requirement falls on the housing department of Gravesham borough council. That is where the reference to advice is so important. We rightly do not rely solely on the local authorities nowadays to ensure that all that should be done locally is done. We rely on our local authorities to provide advice and act in a co- ordinating function as an information channel. I have looked into the energy conservation advice that is available to my constituents. Gravesham borough council housing department advises people to take up the support and information that is available from a number of other organisations.

10 am

I draw the attention of the House to the advice that can be made available to residents in respect of energy conservation by an imaginative scheme introduced by Moat housing society, which operates in north-west Kent. I have visited it several times recently. Its care and repair scheme will be of particular benefit for home energy conservation. It assists particularly the elderly to put together all that is needed to improve energy conservation in their homes. People receive advice on matters such as the priority that they should give to energy conservation, how they can find financial and grant assistance for energy conservation work and, above all, how they can find reliable and effective contractors to carry out energy conservation measures in their homes. One of the greatest problems that people have is finding advice on how to go about carrying out proper energy conservation.

The Moat housing care and repair scheme draws heavily on the Government's home energy efficiency scheme. As we all know, the scheme provides grants to vulnerable members of society for basic energy efficiency measures such as loft insulation, tank and pipe lagging and draught-proofing. It is interesting to note that the resources for the scheme have almost doubled in the current financial year. That has allowed the Government

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to provide grants to more than 200,000 extra households per year. For the coming year, more than £100 million will be available. That is a 45 per cent. increase on the current year.

When those resources are made available by the Government, it is essential that advice is available to residents so that they know how to take up the resources and apply them to their housing to conserve energy. That is particularly relevant for the elderly, who are more vulnerable than most to the problem of cold in the winter. Another scheme that should be brought to the attention of the public and, therefore, should be included in the advice provided by the borough council is the neighbourhood energy action scheme co-ordinated by ConservEnergy. I was involved in ConservEnergy week in my constituency late last year. It is interesting to know that, through neighbourhood energy action, the scheme co-ordinates a national network of agencies that provide services under the home energy efficiency scheme. It monitors the effectiveness of the policy framework and identifies good practice. That needs to be put into practical terms for local residents. That is why it is valuable that advice is available for the public and that the Bill will place the onus on housing authorities to provide that very advice.

Late last year, I was invited to see a scheme in Gravesham whereby assistance was given to a blind person in Gravesend. The scheme completed insulation and draughtproofing work on his house. The work was carried out by a contractor who was a member of neighbourhood energy action and held the appropriate certification of Weatherguard insulation services.

So the Bill and in particular the provisions of the clause will take the matter further. I strongly support my hon. Friend the Minister in requiring the relevant authorities to provide advice on these important matters.

Mr. Fabricant: I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. May I say how nice it is that we have some agreement across the Floor of the House. I have to confess that, had I been in the House when it voted to bring television into the Chamber, I would have voted for it. However, if the matter came up again, I would have grave doubts about it, because television has trivialised much of what happens in the House. The more thoughtful debates are not shown on television. So many people think that Labour Members, Conservative Members and Liberal Democrats are always at each other's throats. Of course that is not the case. I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on coming up with this worthwhile Bill.

I am particularly pleased with the amendment. It has broadened the scope of application of the Bill. In Staffordshire, we have many schools which have flat roofs. That is common in other counties. Other hon. Members are nodding in assent. Flat-roofed buildings are prone to losing heat. That puts an extra burden on school budgets. This is an ideal opportunity for the energy conservation authorities to give advice to schools, particularly those which have chosen to become grant-maintained and separated themselves from local education authority control.

The Bill also encourages people to invest their own money. It is an investment. It is a question not of spending but of investing money. It is an investment not only to save on future energy bills for homes and businesses, but

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for the future of our children and our children's children and the welfare of the whole world. I would love to see similar Bills introduced in other countries. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will recommend in the Council of Ministers that similar measures be adopted in other member states of the European Union.

I have already mentioned that I have taken part in the ConservEnergy programme. It is an excellent programme. It was initiated by the Energy Action Grants Agency. It enables elderly people to insulate their homes not only to conserve energy and reduce world pollution but to save money for themselves. The Bill is a double-edged sword which works for the benefit of all.

If we are undergoing climatic change, we should all be aware of the measures that we can take to conserve energy. I have worked extensively in northern Europe in countries such as Iceland. I worked with Icelandic radio, Rikisutvarpid, and Islenska Utvarpsfelagid, the independent station, which I suspect I will have to spell for the Hansard reporters. Towns such as Reykjavik and Akureyri are particularly prone to harsh winds and cold climates, although it is not as cold in Reykjavik as some might think because of the Gulf stream.

We are well aware of the need for energy conservation and the measures that they have taken in Iceland are quite trivial in that they are easily undertaken, so one would think that we could do it in the United Kingdom. Double glazing is a recent event in this country and one would think that that would be a sensible move.

The energy conservation authority can advise on such items of expenditure and initiatives. This amendment enables the authority not only to advise on homes, but to advise schools and businesses. One would think that businesses would initiate their own ways to save money and operating overheads for their companies, but small businesses often do not have the expertise to seek advice--there has been a huge growth in the registration of new small businesses--and would be extremely wary about going to a firm of architects, who could charge a huge amount of money for advice on energy conservation.

The establishment of energy conservation authorities throughout the United Kingdom, will provide a one-stop shop of thermal thought police--that is an expression that will be used a lot today--where people can go for advice and to find out how to invest their money most wisely, to ensure that their homes and businesses are insulated and to lower their operating costs.

Few people have any awareness of low-energy lighting, which has been mentioned. Hon. Members will be aware that it has already been fitted to most of the lights in the Palace of Westminster and its outbuildings. The cost of a low-energy lamp might at first seem prohibitive, yet one can regain it over two or three years. For those who have doubts about it, the energy conservation authority will be able to provide statistics on the energy and cost savings that are possible and on the best applications.

I confess that I was amused to hear the hon. Member for Christchurch refer to aircraft undertaking thermal imaging over Sutton. I wondered whether there was a bright spot over the home of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), where I suspect that a huge amount of hot air and wastage might be going into the upper atmosphere, although I am sure that it is in no way a pollutant. But perhaps I misjudge her, and she has insulated her home so that it is especially warm and pleasant.

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The Bill is very helpful. Perhaps it is just the first step, but it is a necessary first step to ensure that operating costs are lower for businesses and to promote the welfare of the world's ecology. Extending the first clause with the use of the word "advice" and ensuring that we take in schools, businesses and charitable organisations, as well as homes, is a wise amendment, and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak): Like my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant), this is the first opportunity that I have had to speak in this debate and on the Bill. As he said, the amendment is narrowly drawn, but I want to give the Bill a warm welcome and to congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on introducing it and my hon. Friend the Minister, who has ensured that it has Government support.

The Bill is directly relevant to my constituency. The very name High Peak makes people realise why energy conservation is important there. In that most glorious part of the peak district, we are the highest inhabited part of England. Inevitably, therefore, conservation and energy use issues will affect my constituency more than many other parts of the country. My constituents look to Christchurch as being on the balmy south coast-- essentially a riviera-type environment, in comparison with some of the weather conditions that we have to endure.

Buxton is not just famous for its water, but is the name of the place that, on every weather forecast, seems to have endured the worst weather the previous day. It is invariably the coldest place in Britain and often the wettest, but it is also one of the nicest and jolliest places in the country. Therefore, we have a particular interest in this Bill.

Mr. Harry Greenway: I think that you will allow me to say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that perhaps the beer in Buxton contributes to the jollity. They make very good beer there, as we know.

10.15 am

Mr. Hendry: I suspect that my hon. Friend may be thinking of Burton, which is a little down the road, but we certainly add to our conviviality by consuming small amounts, in moderation.

Mr. Greenway: I know about the beer in Burton, but there is also beer in Buxton. If my hon. Friend does not know about it, I will take him along to try it some time.

Mr. Hendry: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Apart from the different forms of liquid that characterise the town, we are a rural community and have many small, old buildings, many of which have ill- fitting windows, where double glazing came very late, and draughty cellars, so we need particular advice and help. The Bill will be of great support to my constituents, as it will ensure that they can live in more comfort and will cut the cost of doing so in the process.

I used to live in a little village called Sparrowpit, which is perched on the hills outside Buxton, and it always struck me that there was nothing between it and the Urals. Having shot across northern Europe, the first place that the winds hit was my back door. It was like living in a sieve and it did not feel as if there were any panes in the windows. However much one bunged up every gap, the

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wind still came in. On one occasion, I removed the panelling under the sink only to discover that it was full of snow. I took out two sink loads, but no one could find the hole through which the snow had come into the house. That shows that we will be very grateful for the measures in the Bill.

On the amendment, the importance of advice cannot be underestimated and I welcome its inclusion. There are two different aspects. First, advice as distinct from information must be made available to householders as, for many elderly people, information is not sufficient. They are concerned about what they will be doing and about letting people whom they do not know into their homes. The information they get might be fairly general, but they will find it comforting and helpful to know that they can get independent advice through a statutory body.

The most important aspect of the inclusion of the word "advice", and the reason for its inclusion, is that it enables the Bill to go further than was initially envisaged. There was concern that it should be completely clear that an authority should be able to give advice to businesses that might want to offer energy conservation services.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham emphasised, it is most important that businesses work in tandem with the authorities in this. That is the way in which they and the local authorities would want to go forward. The Bill has the backing of the authorities in Derbyshire--not merely the borough councils, but also Derbyshire county council. I am glad that we have managed to find one area--perhaps the only one--on which the county council and I are in agreement. More importantly, it is vital that the authorities will be able to operate in conjunction with businesses and will not have to say that they cannot advise them because they are organisations that will be making money out of advising people how their homes can be better insulated and how they can conserve energy more effectively. The inclusion of the word "advice" means that best practice can much more effectively be spread among the range of companies that will offer advice, information and services in this sector. Many companies are coming into this sector. In my constituency, they come from Chesterfield or from the north-west side of the Pennines. An increasing number of companies, which are often small businesses--one or two-man or woman businesses--seek to provide services in this sector. The fact that they will not be excluded from receiving advice is much to be welcomed.

There are substantive elements in the Bill to which I shall come later. Suffice it to say that the provision of advice is an important step forward because it goes beyond information. I welcome its inclusion in the Bill.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest): Like my hon. Friends, I welcome the Bill and especially the amendment, which would add giving advice to the duties and powers of local authorities in promoting energy efficiency measures. Like them, I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on her wisdom in promoting the Bill, which will, I am sure, find favour in the House and duly become law. I cannot agree with every dot and comma of the Bill; given the circumstances, it would be curious if I did. Nevertheless, I congratulate the hon. Lady.

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I also congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis)--he is not in his place, but sitting in the Special Strangers' Gallery--on his work in introducing similar legislation. I was a sponsor of his Energy Conservation Bill. He first identified the importance of ensuring that energy audits for individual houses and the advice resulting from that were made available.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry), I believe that it is important for councils to be able to give advice. Although the climate in my area is as hospitable as my constituents, we have many houses that were built in the 1950s and 1940s. They do not come up to modern standards of insulation, and therefore waste energy unnecessarily.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) I believe that our commitments under the Rio treaty are important in reducing CO2 emissions and in ensuring that temperatures do not reach the levels that are anticipated in the next 100 years. Although an increase of 0.3 deg C on average across the world may not sound a great deal, it could lead to an increase in sea level of 6 cm. That could be extremely damaging and, I understand, irreversible. It must, however, be said that some bodies, such as the Institute of Economic Affairs, have called into question global warming. They have advanced the argument that many of the monitoring stations that anticipate an increase in global warming do so purely because they are in a position different from that of 10 or 20 years ago. In many parts of America, the monitoring stations have been overtaken by urban and suburban developments, which means that there is greater heat retention. When that is stripped out of the equation, it may be found that global warming is not the problem that has been anticipated. Nevertheless, let us assume that it is a problem. The advice which, under the amendment, would have to be given by councils to people such as my constituents is important.

After the Rio summit, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that there must be a balance between people's needs and the environment in which they live. My view is that, when the council gives advice to constituents, people will find that the conflict is not as severe as anticipated. Energy efficiency is also cost efficiency and cost efficiency means greater competitiveness, whether in the domestic or in the industrial sphere. I hope that councils will lay down clearly the improvements in efficiency that they anticipate in their areas as a result of the Bill. In giving advice to local businesses and local people, it may be more difficult than anticipated to be categorical about what the savings might be. I am pleased that the scope of the Bill has been extended. Clause 2(4) refers to

"the extent of decreases in emissions into the atmosphere of oxides of nitrogen and sulphur dioxide"

in addition to carbon dioxide. I understand that it is estimated that there is a potential 75 per cent. saving in nitrous oxide emissions which will have a significant health effect as well as an environmental effect. Such emissions may be significantly connected with the large increase in reported asthma cases in hospitals and GP surgeries over the past 10 years. It is estimated that, over the past 10 years, the incidence of reported asthma has increased by about 50 per cent., which is remarkable.

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Asthma appears to be the only life- threatening disease that is significantly on the increase in the United Kingdom. It would be a brave man who did not link that increase to the increasing environmental pollution and CO2 emissions with which the advice from local authorities and the whole thrust of the Bill are meant to deal.

You may recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a debate on the Adjournment about three weeks ago, which I initiated, on the health effects of congestion and the emissions from vehicles. I hope that the Bill and the advice that councils are able to give as a result of it will make a significant contribution to solving that problem.

The second-year report from the Government entitled "This Common Inheritance" says:

"Using energy efficiently is the quickest and most cost-effective way of reducing CO2 emissions."

I understand from international organisations that monitor air quality that the United Kingdom is likely to be one of the few nations, through the Bill and the significant reduction in emissions that it will bring about, and through the advice that councils will be able to give to local communities under the amendment, that will meet the target.

ld be argued that the target of a 5 per cent. reduction in CO2 emissions may be significantly too modest. It is estimated that, by 2005, Germany will achieve a reduction of between 25 per cent. and 3per cent. in CO2 emissions and that Denmark will achieve a 20 per cent. reduction. The poorer countries in Europe, such as Greece, Portugal and Spain, may have to increase their CO2 emissions as theieconomies develop industrially. The more sophisticated and developedindustrialised n Mr. Fabricant: Is my hon. Friend aware that, although 30 per cent. of CO2 emissions come from industry and 21 per cent. from road transport--one might have expected those percentages to be much higher--as much as 27 per cent. of emissions come from domestic usage? Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill is important because it will save energy not only in the home for the sake of home owners but for the sake of the general ecology of the world? 10.30 am

Mr. Coombs: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why the advice that will be given by councils to domestic householders will make a significant contribution towards achieving the target reduction of 10 million tonnes of carbon by the year 2000. Currently, 158 million tonnes of carbon are emitted into the atmosphere every year in the United Kingdom.

The advice that will be given to communities by councils will build upon some of the advice-driven initiatives of central Government. In 1992, the "helping the earth begins at home campaign" pointed out that, every year, the average household emits some 7.5 tonnes of carbon as a result of energy usage. The document "Wasting Energy Costs the Earth", published in 1994, also drew attention to that fact.

I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) and for High Peak about the importance of labelling on energy- saving merchandise, in particular energy-saving light bulbs. As a

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