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Column 1148result of the amendment, individual householders will be made aware of where those energy-saving devices are most easily available and which firms can correctly install them. Their use would make a significant contribution to reducing CO2 emissions and meeting the desired target.
I also hope that councils will advise householders about the home energy efficiency scheme, which, according to my calculations from documents on the Bill available in the Library, accounts for some £102 million per year of taxpayers' spending. Since 1991, that scheme has ensured that no fewer than half a million homes have been insulated.
On 24 February, I visited my constituent, Mrs. Ethel Swift, of 20 Rosemary road. She had been given advice by the council about the conservation of energy scheme through neighbourhood energy action. We watched as people registered by the council insulated her loft and draught-stripped her windows and front door. I am sure that those measures will make a substantial contribution to Mrs. Swift's energy needs, so that she will be able to maintain the same level of heating while using far less energy. As a result, her energy bills and the CO emissions from her home will be reduced.
As a result of the amendment, I should like councils to advise landlords of their obligations under the Housing Act 1985. The Institute of Environmental Assessment has also stressed the importance of those obligations. It believes that energy efficiency should be part of the fitness standards applied to houses that are assessed for potential grant aid through either the home energy efficiency scheme or more general grant aid provisions.
I also hope that, when councils give advice to households, they will stress the importance of the Energy Saving Trust and, in particular, the availability of local energy advice centres. They have been set up as a result of co-operation between the private and public sectors, the Government, British Gas, regional electricity companies and Scottish Power. I understand that some problems have arisen as a result of Ms Spottiswoode's opinion on the E-factor and whether it can be used, in part, to fund the Energy Saving Trust. Nevertheless, work agreed by the trust-- for example, loft insulation--the lagging of hot water pipes, draught- stripping and heating controls has benefited about 350,000 houses.
I hope that local authorities will be able to advise my constituents about the availability of local energy advice centres. If, as I hope, additional finance is made available to the Energy Saving Trust, I also hope that my constituents will be able to take advantage of the advice offered by the trust.
I also hope that projects can be developed, again as a result of the advice offered by councils, with third parties, which could fund schemes such as the home energy efficiency scheme and the Energy Saving Trust. Private companies which put money into those schemes would be able to benefit from savings made by individual householders as a result of the installation of energy-saving equipment. For instance, according to the energy efficiency policies drawn up in 1993, an agreement was reached between New York city and Benec Industries, which installed, inter alia, insulation and boiler modifications on the same lines as those made by the
Column 1149Energy Saving Trust, in municipally owned flats. The savings in the heating bills paid by the city were shared between New York and Benec Industries.
If the hon. Member for Wyre Forest is so concerned that sufficient moneys should be available to the Energy Saving Trust and shares my concern about the attitude of the regulator about that, he should persuade his hon. Friends on the Front Bench to tackle that problem through the Gas Bill, which is before the House.
Advice is important, but it is useful only if it is specific and leads to action by householders. It is estimated that, on average, it will cost local authorities £40,000 to provide advice to householders. I am concerned that councils will, however, effectively have to guess the potential energy-saving measures that could be adopted in each home.
For instance, energy saving may be all about lagging pipes or loft insulation, but it is difficult to inspect a house from the outside and to guess what those energy savings might be. We must not forget that the Bill does not permit councils right of entry. It is those householders who do not pay a great deal of attention to energy saving who will need such advice, but it is precisely those people who will not be prepared to allow councils in to inspect their homes.
Mr. Harry Greenway: Has my hon. Friend had my good fortune to see aerial photographs of streets from which it is possible to spot heat escaping from the lofts of certain houses that are not insulated? Such photographs reveal that insulation could result in energy saving.
I return to the advice that councils will give as a result of their assessment of the cost of the energy conservation measures set out in clause 2, subsection (3)(a), and also as a result of their assessment of the extent to which carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere would decrease as a result of those measures.
I ask the Minister through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, how, as a result of spending about £41,000 a year, which is about enough to pay two officers, any meaningful information about savings, monetary or of carbon dioxide, will be gained from councils, given the fact that they will generally do a roadside check on houses which will be very rough indeed. Some householders to whom they will give advice will have insulated their houses. Some will have done it 30 years ago, others 10 years ago. I am at a loss to know how one will obtain a sensible evaluation of the carbon dioxide emissions that could be saved or of the costs of energy conservation measures that could be taken.
Column 1150It is very difficult to avoid that problem without giving the thought police, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid- Staffordshire said, powers of entry into houses so that they can inspect lagging and loft insulation, which no one would want. I question the value of the information that individual local authorities will be able to elicit, and therefore the value of the reports that they will be able to produce.
Ms Ruddock: I do not know whether this is helpful, but I am told that two local authorities, Derby city council and Newark and Sherwood district council, estimated that they could secure the information required, not by the Bill, as it happens, but by the previous Bill, the Energy Conservation Bill--the Bill before us is simpler--so it might cost even less. Their estimate was £50,000 to do a full energy audit per local authority, but they decided to do it on the basis of 10 per cent. of homes, which seems feasible to all of us.
Obviously, many people, when they know that there is a local authority scheme that will prove helpful, would be prepared to volunteer and to allow people to enter their homes on a voluntary basis by agreement because they would understand, as the hon. Member for Wyre Forest obviously does, the great gains that could result from such a process of information-gathering.
Mr. Coombs: Let us hope that people do allow the local authority into their homes in the enlightened way that the hon. Lady has described. Let us also hope that the homes that are inspected are representative of homes in the district, so giving more than a spurious accuracy to the figures on which the advice about which we are now talking is based.
I say to the Minister that there is no value in an exercise such as that unless it leads to action being taken by householders whose energy savings will potentially be assessed. It is my opinion that people do not take any action to improve their loft insulation or their pipe insulation and so on for two reasons. First, they do not know specifically the savings that will be made in their properties, as opposed to the district as a whole, and secondly, they are afraid of being ripped off by contractors who are likely to do a shoddy job.
If the advice that local authorities give as a result of the amendment includes, as in the ConserveEnergy scheme in some areas, lists of reputable contractors who can be relied on to do a good job and to give an accurate estimate of the specific reductions in energy bills that will be made possible by insulation and loft insulation and lagging and so on, it would be worth while. However, the Government need to keep a close eye on it if the measure is to be as effective as it should be.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle): I apologise if I strike a somewhat discordant note in the debate, as I often appear to do in the worthy debates that we hold on a Friday morning. Everyone has congratulated the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on an excellent Bill. We all realise the costs that are involved in wasting energy and we know that the country has an energy bill of about £50 billion a year, so we are right to seek ways to reduce that.
What do we emerge with at the end of that long discussion about ways to save energy? We emerge with a Bill that I am neutral about, which I neither support nor oppose, which I fear will be pointless. All that will happen
Column 1151is that a certain amount of money will be spent by local authorities on producing more reports. Do we really need more reports written by more local authority officers?
Mr. Leigh: The Bill may cost only more paperwork, as my hon. Friend says. It may only cost £40,000 or £50,000 per authority. From personal experience of the way in which local authorities work, the way in which empires grow and the way in which officers are appointed for all types of worthy causes, I doubt that the cost will be limited to that sum. However, that is a central part of the Bill. We all know, as we have read the Bill, that the report by the local authorities shall include
"an assessment of the cost of the energy conservation measures set out in it".
I am afraid that I hold a different opinion of the way to save energy. It must be left to people. Householders will decide, and businesses--amendment No. 2 is especially about businesses. Householders will choose to save energy if the cost of their energy increases to such a level that their personal circumstances, or the market, or whatever, forces them to save energy.
Many reports--worthy reports, which are detailed in the Bill and in the amendment--are written by local authority officers and however much we talk about a partnership between local authorities and businesses, and however much we encourage businesses to become involved and so on, they are busy people who are already burdened by a great deal of regulation by local authorities, and they will act only if it is in their economic interest so to act. They will act if the cost of energy increases.
None of us liked VAT on fuel, but we voted for it, and one of the reasons for doing so was to save energy and to make people aware of the true costs of energy. That is how we shall undertake our Rio commitments. We shall save energy if the price of energy reflects its true market value.
Ms Ruddock: Whether it is a man or a woman, let us say that many Conservative Members have spoken of elderly people in their homes suffering from energy loss, and about the work that has been done to insulate those homes better. How does the hon. Gentleman think that a pure price mechanism, increasing the cost of fuel to households of that kind, would achieve the objectives if there were not information gathering, and advice were not given to help such households?
Column 1152very tolerant this morning, but many hon. Members have been getting back to the word, "advice", which has saved them, and saved my legs an awful lot as well. If they can stick formally to the amendment now, it would be helpful to the debate.
Mr. Leigh: I am glad that the hon. Lady made that intervention, because she has led me to the argument that I wanted to make in a moment. You are right, Mr. Deputy Speaker; one can answer that intervention by way of the amendment.
Advice is important, and we all understand that many elderly people need more heat than we younger people need, that they often live in older homes and that we have a duty to help them. That is why I do not oppose the Government's energy efficiency schemes. They constitute action, and that is what we should be talking about. The Government, whom I support, have doubled the resources available to help elderly and disabled people to insulate their homes. The answer to the hon. Lady's question is that there is nothing wrong in the market mechanism and in intervening occasionally in the market when it does not work with a class of people. What is wrong is to assume, as the hon. Member for Christchurch does, that one can solve those problems simply by producing more and more reports and paperwork, and talking in worthy terms of advice, partnership and so on.
One achieves things in life by doing things. If one feels that the market is not working--if one feels that a class of people cannot afford to do up their homes, and their energy is being taxed more because they are part of society as a whole--one concludes that those people are being placed in an unfair position, and decides to help them. That is precisely what the Government are doing, and what the Bill does not do.
We have heard about the Energy Saving Trust, which is an excellent organisation and a private-sector initiative. It wants to save 2.5 million tonnes of carbon by the year 2000--an excellent goal. That organisation is trying to do something, but what will the Bill achieve? I suspect that it will simply create more paperwork. Many people in the House, including the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock), believe passionately that we smoke too many cigarettes. Is she suggesting that the way to deal with the problem is to introduce a Bill to give local authorities the power to carry out an assessment of cigarette smoking in their areas? That is not the answer. To stop people smoking cigarettes, we must tax cigarettes more highly. The same is true of drinking or of anything else. I come from Lincolnshire--one of the coldest counties in the country. We have heard about what happens on High Peak, but when we in Lincolnshire get the east wind whistling off the North sea, there is nothing between us and the Urals. Once, when I was travelling along the top of the Lincolnshire wolds, I heard Moscow radio. I knew from the wind coming in through the car window that it was pretty cold. We know all about the importance of saving energy, heating our homes and why we have to do it, but we do not think that the cause will be helped by a report by West Lindsey district council, my local authority--a small council, which already has many duties laid upon it by the House. We criticise local authorities, but those who work in them say that it is all very well for people down south to talk in terms of large
Column 1153authorities and say, "It's only £40,000 or £50,000." That is a significant cost for my little local authority to bear, and the measure will not help anyone in the long run.
Mr. Anthony Coombs: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and one that I mentioned in my contribution when I said that action was more important than advice to my constituents when saving energy. In 1993, the Liberal party produced a document called "Taxing Pollution not People", which said that we should end
"the anomalous zero-rate of VAT on fuel".
Now, that party talks about phasing in an EU-wide carbon energy tax.
Mr. Leigh: We all know that the Liberal party is interested in advising people, but its advice is often different in different parts of the country and on different issues. The Liberals are primarily concerned with making political progress. Conservatives are concerned with the process of government and trying to achieve something. I welcome my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment to his post. He has a long record of interest in such issues. His moderate stance on the subject will allow us to make progress. I hope that when he winds up the debate he will try to answer the issues that I have raised and detail what the Government have done in a practical sense to encourage business and to deal with the problems through taxation or through the Department of Trade and Industry.
I hope that the rest of the debate will not be characterised by a lack of intellectual rigour and logic.
Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North): I strongly support the amendment, which emphasises the importance of advice. I should like to mention a couple of issues in relation to Wales, which apply also to England.
Local authorities will have the power to advise not only organisations in their own territories but organisations on a broader basis. In Wales as in England, housing associations are active. In Wales, they are funded by an all-Wales organisation, Tai Cymru, and in England by the Housing Corporation. Local authorities will have the power to advise and to influence the policy of an organisation such as Tai Cymru. That is currently causing difficulties in terms of constructing houses that are energy efficient.
The housing association grant--HAG--provided by Tai Cymru does not take sufficient account of the need for energy efficiency when designing homes. Tai Cymru recently produced a pattern book for housing design. I am told by housing associations that the book makes it more difficult than before to construct energy-efficient homes. I should like the Minister's confirmation, but I assume that local authorities' advice will be aimed at organisations such as the funding organisations--Tai Cymru in Wales and the Housing Corporation in England.
Can I take it that the undertakings given by the Minister in Committee will apply to Wales? Will the undertakings given on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Environment apply to the Secretary of State for Wales? Undertakings were given on when the Bill's provisions would be implemented. Will those undertakings apply to Wales? Other undertakings on ministerial guidance have been important in obtaining agreement on the Bill's form. I should like it to be made clear that such undertakings
Column 1154will apply to Wales--in particular that local government reorganisation will not be used as an excuse for postponing the implementation of the Bill's provisions in Wales.
I congratulate, and thank, the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on taking up the cause in her Bill, which is now approaching fruition. It is a tribute not only to her persistence but to her vision, that she adopted the cause in the Bill rather than a less controversial one. It is also important to congratulate the Under-Secretary on his support. The importance of that support becomes clear when we hear some of the contributions that Conservative Members have made this morning.
The Bill will provide us with a UK-wide strategy on domestic property. Although the Bill contains no targets, we understand that targets will form part of ministerial guidance. The Bill is only a beginning: action-- implementation of the provisions--is what counts. A framework of planning is essential. When planning, provisional advice to individuals and property owners is crucial. That is part of the process of developing among people a responsible attitude towards energy use.
Implementation of the measures will depend on the provision of resources to enable action to be taken. Considerable public resources will have to be made available if we are to take the subject seriously. The plans will provide a focus. The advice will establish and encourage heightened awareness of energy efficiency--bringing it down to a private and personal level of responsibility.
The organisation Friends of the Earth has recently been encouraging local authorities to adopt a climate resolution, which encourages local authorities and the people within them to take seriously the subject of energy--not just energy efficiency, but energy generally. That will include local authorities encouraging the development of renewable energy within their territories.
The importance of encouraging the growth of nuclear industry has been mentioned. Clearly, we should not adopt that policy, which tends to offer an unrealistic panacea.
Mr. Dafis: I shall not say too much in response to that intervention. Huge research resources have been invested in the nuclear industry, and are still being invested in fusion. If we put a fraction of those resources into the development of renewables, we should be making an important contribution to the sort of issues contained in Friends of the Earth's climate resolution programme. I recently attended the launch in the House of an organisation called Euro Solar UK. I commend to all hon. Members the work of that organisation in exerting pressure for the development of renewables, which must go hand in hand with energy efficiency.
It is important to put the question into its proper context at this stage. We need not only an integrated energy efficiency policy but an integrated energy policy. The Bill represents the start of a process that, with good will on
Column 1155the part of this and succeeding Governments, could lead to a general integrated energy policy, which must include a transport component.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury): I may be last to speak in the debate, but I hope that I am not least. Amendment No. 2 is a very important amendment which deals with advice. I should like to address the question of the quality of that advice and who will provide it. Unfortunately, the Bill tends to focus on the residential sector, but it is equally important to the commercial sector, because probably more progress can be made in the energy efficiency field within that sector.
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on introducing the Home Energy Conservation Bill--
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was about to congratulate the hon. Lady on introducing the Bill and also to welcome the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), to the Front Bench. I understand that this is his debut Bill, and it is good to see him in the Chamber today.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State was Chairman of the Environment Select Committee, of which I am a member, which conducted an inquiry into energy efficiency. Advice about energy efficiency matters was an important element of the inquiry and we learned a lot about the various sources from which that advice can come. With other colleagues, I was privileged to meet an elderly gentleman in my constituency who took part in the ConserveEnergy scheme run by the Energy Action Grants Agency. As my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) said, real action resulted from that scheme. My elderly constituent received advice about energy efficiency measures such as placing draught strips around doors and windows, installing an insulation jacket around his hot water cylinder and insulating the roof, and thus was able to reduce his energy bills significantly. He said that, as a result, he will be able to remain in his house for at least another two years rather than enter a residential home. He benefited from that excellent advice, and in so doing he saved himself and the country a considerable amount of money.
Hon. Members have already referred to the question of supplying advice to local authorities. I have some reservations about the immense scope of the legislation, and hence the bureaucracy that will confront local authorities. Clause 2, which deals with advice, is very wide in its scope. Under that clause, advice will apply to emissions of nitrous oxides and sulphur dioxide, the assessment of the number of jobs, the assessment of average savings and, as though that were not enough, such other matters as are considered appropriate. A considerable amount of bureaucracy could flow from that.
Fortunately, the saving grace comes in subsection (5) of clause 2, which states:
"An energy conservation authority may in preparing the report consult such persons as it considers appropriate."
Column 1156I think that that is the key to the amendment, as it states who should provide advice on energy efficiency matters. As my hon. Friend the Minister will be aware, the Energy Savings Trade
Association--ESTA--is an umbrella organisation for 80 firms which are involved in the energy efficiency business and which give energy efficiency advice.
The field of energy efficiency advice is much more developed in other countries. For example, in the United States so-called contract energy management companies provide a considerable amount of advice not only to the public sector but to private individuals. The energy efficiency business is about local authorities and the public sector providing advice, but it also involves individuals because they are the ones who will benefit from that advice.
I hope that the Minister will mention the role of the private sector in giving advice. That is a very important point. In evidence to the Environment Select Committee, ESTA said that it could typically provide advice at rates five to 10 times cheaper than the public sector. I hope that my hon. Friend will encourage local authorities to approach private sector firms for advice when drawing up their energy efficiency plans.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will also refer to the public sector and to the Energy Efficiency Office, which is sponsored by his Department and which has not been referred to in the debate so far. That office is a major provider of advice. It sponsors the Energy Saving Trust, to which several hon. Members have referred. It has a budget of some £15 million to £20 million and it represents one of the best ways of disseminating advice about best practice throughout the country by way of its regional energy efficiency officers.
I hope that my hon. Friend will inform the House about the quality of advice delivered by those regional energy efficiency officers and how they will be able to assist individual local authorities in drawing up their plans. During the Committee's inquiry, concern was expressed that the regional energy efficiency officers network was not so complete as it might be. I am concerned that, if the Bill is passed today, it will be necessary to reinforce that regional network so that best practice information can be disseminated to local authorities very quickly.
I believe that this is a critical amendment. Local authorities must consult the very best sources about energy efficiency matters. The private sector is at the leading edge in providing that advice and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will encourage private sector firms to supply it. There is enormous scope for using that advice to improve the rather rundown, elderly housing stock in some local authority areas.
Ms Ruddock: Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope to save both your legs and your voice by confining my remarks entirely to the amendment. I shall not emulate the performances of some Conservative Members whose contributions have, I think, resembled Second Reading speeches.
Column 1157Mr. Jacques Arnold: How does the hon. Lady assesses the content of the very learned speeches by Labour Back Benchers on this important Bill?
In moving the amendment, the Minister referred to the consideration that had been given to supplying advice to business. I put it on the record that we are extremely keen that there should be a two-way process between local authorities and business in the collecting of information. There is much that can be gained from business giving advice to local authorities and vice versa.
The Labour party is committed to the partnerships that its local authorities have developed with local businesses. We have seen the positive results of those partnerships and there is no doubt that, as the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) said, there is much to be gained by taking the advice of those commercially involved in energy efficiency. We have no problem with that. My local authority in Lewisham, which has been a pioneer in developing such partnerships, has shown how they can be applied to energy efficiency and savings.
I am grateful to the Minister for saying that, although he would not accept a provision limited to business, he intends to ensure that advice giving and, indeed, advice taking, is more widespread. We support that notion. The Minister states in his guidance that he will not be prescribing the limits or list of organisations, but we none the less hope that he will encourage and support the idea of the exchange of advice, which is be in all our interests.
The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) cast some aspersions on Labour councils in particular. I should like to put it on the record that we are extremely proud of their record and achievements, especially in the matter of energy conservation. Gathering information is essential if a council is to be able to give advice. It is impossible to give advice in a vacuum-- information must be gathered on which that advice can properly be mounted.
My local authority in Lewisham has undertaken an energy audit of all its housing stock and surveyed the public buildings in its ownership to identify the scope for energy-saving measures. Those buildings include, of course, schools and youth clubs which have already been
Column 1158mentioned. That work has already been done and we are convinced that the Bill's provisions will make it possible to do much more.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am interested to hear that the hon. Lady's local authority has been giving itself advice. Was that advice given by its own officers or did it, as I suggested, take advice from private sector firms?
Ms Ruddock: The hon. Gentleman should not be surprised that a local authority is giving itself advice. The Bill offers the important opportunity for local authorities to assess what is required-- [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman will give me a moment, I am tackling his surprise that my local authority is giving itself advice.
We are aware, and I know that the Minister is, too, that much local authority housing stock, like that of the private sector, is badly insulated. No one denies that. There is a need to tackle the problem, but the relevant information needs first to be gathered. The local authority must advise itself although, of course, it consults experts and makes any advice available to its own officers. Clearly, if work needs to be done, it is in many cases passed to the private sector. The work done by Lewisham council includes the giving of advice about what is necessary to make energy savings in individual homes.
Mr. Leigh: The hon. Lady has been very generous in giving way. She stresses the role of local authorities, but she must accept that local businesses involved in energy conservation have a great deal of experience that they can offer directly. It is far cheaper and more efficient to look in the Yellow Pages and find the firms which have the necessary information and expertise. Why do local authorities need to advise themselves and produce reports? Surely that adds nothing but more regulation and cost.