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Ms Ruddock: There is a good reason for local authorities to advise themselves. If information is to be gathered there has to be trust between public authorities and the people. It is sometimes necessary for people to be asked to allow officers into their homes when assessments have to be made. That is entirely appropriate for the gathering of information.
It is crucial that any advice given is independent; it is not appropriate that advice should be given by people who stand to gain commercially from giving it. The Government have acknowledged that central or local government departments can give advice of an independent nature which people can trust even if, as I said, any action resulting from that is more likely to involve contracts with the private sector. It would be ludicrous to believe that the Labour party does not want partnerships with the private sector. At this point, I may stray from the amendment if I am not careful, but I wish to point out that one of the reasons we value the Bill so much is that it will create jobs, and many of them will be in the private sector.
I conclude by mentioning the well known pioneering work in information gathering and advice giving done by Kirklees metropolitan council. The council has adopted an affordable warmth and energy efficient strategy to achieve lower fuel bills through a programme of insulation, ventilation-- the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr.
Column 1159Greenway) would be pleased to hear that if he were in the Chamber today--and heating combined with education and advice. The advice service is available to all residents, not only council tenants. We support the amendment, which I am sure will be helpful in shaping the final Bill, and we thank the Minister for tabling it.
Mr. Robert B. Jones: With the leave of the House, I will reply to the debate.
I think that I am right in sensing that, with perhaps one or two exceptions, there is a warm welcome for the amendment, and I trust that it is also an energy-efficient welcome. We have dealt with a wide range of important issues relating to energy efficiency because, naturally enough, they have a strong link with advice. It is not terribly surprising, therefore, that we have focused on energy efficiency to a large extent.
I thank the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) for welcoming the amendment. We have tried to work together during the passage of the Bill to ensure that it is good legislation when, as I hope that it will, it reaches the statute book. This was one of those matters where our differences were more apparent than real, as we both clearly wanted advice to be given but not necessarily in an exclusive way.
The hon. Lady touched on the infra-red surveys in the London borough of Sutton, but I believe that a number of boroughs are also involved. That is an example of the practical way in which the message can be put across to people that they are a lot less energy-efficient than they think. It is my experience from dealing with my constituents that people always think that they have energy-efficient homes because they put in a bit of insulation many years ago. They believe that that is the be-all and end-all of energy efficiency. However, technology and standards change, and we need to ensure that advice is kept up to date and that people can take advantage of whatever is available at any given time.
Mr. Fabricant: Just 10 years ago, the advice was that 3 in of loft insulation lagging was sufficient, whereas 6 in is now regarded as the very minimum.
Mr. Jones: My hon. Friend is right, and gives a pointed example of precisely the point that I am making.
I also think that it is important there should be a two-way involvement, as the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) said. I visited Leicester city council not so long ago--I think that it is controlled by the hon. Lady's party--and it was emphasising the way in which it works with businesses and how it encourages them to canvass for work in the areas in which people were more prosperous and could afford to put it energy conservation measures themselves. That is one of the big gaps in the system. We aim a lot of effort at people who need the help, but it is much more difficult to get the message over to the people who can afford to sit down and write cheques for their energy bills. Trying to run a campaign to advise those people and then get them to do something about the advice will be one of the challenges for local authorities, for the Government and for all those involved.
There are, of course, good local authorities and not so good local authorities, and I am keen to improve the worst to the standards of the best and then improve them all.
Column 1160One of the initiatives we took recently was to invite a number of authorities to seminars--in Leeds and in Nottingham-- which were aimed at trying to spread the word, using matrices so that people could identify where they were with particular areas of energy efficiency policy, and gradually to improve them over a period. I was delighted with the enthusiasm that developed among local authorities, which although they may not have been hostile to energy efficiency were clearly in need of advice through exchange of best practise. We shall continue to go down that road.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), who is not with us--no doubt because he has gone off to insulate another home in whichever road it was in his constituency--mentioned his support for the Energy Saving Trust. That was echoed by a number of my hon. Friends and, indeed, implicitly by the hon. Member for Deptford. The Energy Saving Trust is an important element in our energy conservation strategy, and what it can do in terms of advice and in "catalysing" movements towards greater energy efficiency is key. My hon. Friend also mentioned energy advice centres. They, too, have an important role to play. I recently visited the energy advice centre in the metropolitan borough of Sandwell, in the west midlands. Telephone calls came in from members of the public, and the staff talked people through the problems of their homes and the options that were available, giving advice and sending out leaflets that were tailor-made to those individuals. In that way, it was complying with the spirit of what my hon. Friend was talking about--namely, tailoring the advice to the particular circumstances. I think that that is the only way to get the message across to people with varied house types as to what they can practically do and what the pay-back is. My hon. Friend also mentioned the home energy efficiency scheme.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is much better for the energy advice offices to give advice direct to individuals, who will then do their own energy saving improvements, rather than local authorities trying to enforce energy efficiency measures?
Mr. Jones: I have always though that advice, provided that people are prepared to listen to it, is welcome to anybody. The energy advice centres are aimed primarily at individuals; we have other mechanisms by which to aim advice at local authorities.
The HEES is an excellent scheme, and it is clear, from what they have said, that many hon. Members have participated in their own constituencies, and that it is a good way of getting over to people the importance of the scheme and is helping to publicise it to those who, perhaps, have not learnt that it is available and therefore have not applied. My only worry about it is that, on occasions, so many of the good and the great are rushing in and out of the houses that the pay-back period must be lengthened considerably by the draughts that are coming through the door as a result of their being left open for photographs and so on. But that, perhaps, is a minor point. I was in the Chamber when my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor announced, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North, the extra £20 million, and I was delighted to hear that news, because it is one of our most excellent schemes, and I hope very much that people will take advantage of it.
Column 1161I also welcome the involvement of private industry with energy action grants. Only last night, Esso presented £100,000 as its contribution for the coming year to the work being done. There is much good work going on, and I very much welcome the comments of hon. Members present.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) coined a phrase, which, I think, is apt in describing the Bill. He said that it has a light touch but goes to the heart of the problem. It is important to have that light touch to avoid what has been named the "thermal thought police issue", which was referred to by many hon. Members.
We have been trying, on both sides of the Committee and now the House, to develop a practical Bill that will result in action, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) said, but to have action one needs a certain amount of information; otherwise, one will waste an awful lot of money through not having the right priorities. If one sees, as I do, the Bill and our energy conservation strategy as being not just about the environment but an anti-poverty strategy, one wants the right sort of information to be able to prioritise--to use that awful word--the investment that local authorities and the Government are putting in.
My hon. Friend stressed partnership with businesses and asked me to confirm that it would not be an exclusive role for businesses. I am happy to confirm that, because the whole spirit of what I was saying was that there are many other people who could be involved, and the voluntary sector is one of the most important of those. Hon. Members will be familiar with the work of organisations like Age Concern, for example, which does a lot of work to ensure that our messages are put across to target groups.
My hon. Friend also referred to the costs of the measure, as did a number of hon. Members. I repeat the undertaking that I gave in Committee that the new burdens procedure will apply and that we will discuss the resource implications with local authority associations. I do not necessarily accept that there is any cost in the end, because from research that we have had carried out, if local authorities put in energy efficiency measures in their stock, it can often result in lower maintenance costs, fewer voids, greater tenant satisfaction, and so on. There are swings as well as roundabouts, but we will want to examine the costs to ensure that they are not disproportionate and that the right outcome is there from the point of view of local authorities and ourselves.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) referred to the care and repair scheme. That is another example, not just of advice but of action, because the whole point of such schemes is that they help to ensure that the proper repairs to integrate energy conservation are used for the benefit of keeping people in their homes who might otherwise go into sheltered accommodation or an even more protective environment. It is a good scheme and I am pleased that we were able today to encourage its continuation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant), with whom I cannot possibly compete in terms of cuteness and designer taste in clothing, made an important point about sharing ideas with other countries. There is a lot of interest in other countries with the way
Column 1162in which we are taking forward our best practice programme and many other energy-efficient measures. Although I am not anything like so distinguished as a member of the Council of Ministers, I will do my best to ensure that that work is continued and that the strategies that we are pursuing are shared with our friends and colleagues abroad, so that we can work towards a global target on energy efficiency and on the reduction of carbon dioxide. If it is not a global target, it has no meaning.
My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry) said how cold it was in that part of Derbyshire. Having visited the area, I know that that is the case. He referred quite relevantly to the large number of older properties in such parts of the country. We must focus our attention on those areas because it is clearly absurd to put the same amount of effort into a city like Milton Keynes, which has a great deal of new property, as into a local authority with older stock and therefore a greater need for improvements in energy efficiency. That is why I was reluctant to see a universal target of 30 per cent. applying to all local authorities, as some would probably need to achieve a great deal more than 30 per cent. 11.30 am
My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs), in an erudite and well-informed speech--he has long been associated with campaigns for energy efficiency--made several points of a global nature. Even if we were to reject the whole concept of global warming, that would not make the slightest difference to the importance of this Bill. Whether we look at the matter from the point of view of an anti-poverty strategy, or simply as not wasting resources and saving cash, energy efficiency still makes sense. Energy efficiency is a win-win part of the environmental debate, and that is why it makes more sense to concentrate on energy efficiency than on many other possible weapons in our armoury.
In an intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire emphasised that a very large percentage of global warming gases come from the home, not just from the use of energy to heat and light homes, but also from the use of other equipment in homes. That is why advice on the energy efficiency of equipment is very important. My hon. Friend also referred to having a list of reputable traders. There are some areas of energy efficiency where the take-up is lower than it might otherwise be because people distrust the methodology. One of the most obvious examples of that is cavity wall filling. I hope that the manufacturers and installers of cavity filling will take that message on board and develop something like a guarantee scheme, which would mean a greater reputation for what they are doing and therefore encourage a higher take-up.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) asked me about housing associations. He referred to the Welsh equivalent of the Housing Corporation. He will know that, of all the sectors, the housing association sector has the best record in terms of energy efficiency. That is largely because it has the highest percentage of new build. We have encouraged the housing association movement to go for a minimum energy efficiency in new development. Of course, a great deal is happening in respect of older development. One of the benefits of large-scale voluntary transfers is that the money available to local authorities and housing
Column 1163associations has been spent on introducing energy efficiency programmes which are very much to the advantage of the tenants and the landlord alike.
In that context, I refer, as I did in Committee, to the Twynham housing association in the constituency of the hon. Member for Christchurch. I had the privilege of visiting that housing association a couple of weeks ago and I saw some of the excellent schemes. I spoke once again to representatives about their record on energy efficiency. I hope that that housing association will be imitated by others.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North also asked about guidance in Wales. My undertaking in Committee did not bind my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. However, it is certainly true that the Welsh Office and the Department of the Environment are talking to each other about how the guidance can be taken forward. There will be close consultation. The hon. Gentleman knows what normally happens in respect of such matters.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North asked about the effect of reorganisation. As a general point, not just in Wales, but in authorities in Scotland and England, it is not fair to expect authorities to draw up strategies when they face the greatest imposition in terms of other pressures. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will not allow authorities to have very much leeway, because we are anxious that they should make progress on developing strategies.
Mr. Dafis: Therefore, it is clear that local authorities will be able to advise an all-Wales organisation such as Tai Cymru, and require it to ensure that energy efficiency is built into its pattern books. Will the new unitary authorities in Wales be drawing up energy conservation plans during their first year of operation after reorganisation?
Mr. Jones: I anticipate that that would be so. As regards housing associations, we shall want to build on what is already happening around the country. In one excellent initiative involving several local authorities, where they are furnishing local housing association grants for developments, they are holding competitions to develop the most energy- efficient developments on those sites. Other developments under the THERMIE programme will be so energy-efficient that everything else will be put in the shade. I visited one of those in Uttlesford district not long ago, where I believe that the total cost of space heating would be £25 a year. That is achieved by using heat exchangers on a whole terrace to obtain economies of scale.
Those are exciting developments. Although clearly the capital costs are that much higher, if we can reduce those costs a little and encourage that kind of joint provision, that is good news for future development. As the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North is aware, the challenge is not so much future development as what we do about past development where energy efficiency was not considered. There is an awful lot of interesting advice around. I opened my post this morning and out fell a leaflet entitled "Bright Ideas Energy Forum" produced by my local authority area. That is an event where people will be able to get together and discuss energy conservation issues and
Column 1164learn from each other. Many private companies are participating in that. My local authority, Dacorum borough council, has been a pioneer in the area, and I am pleased to praise it as an excellent authority in every regard. It has developed a strategy and it has been implementing it and involving the community.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury dwelt on several of the other organisations involved. I was delighted by his tribute to the Energy Efficiency Office. However, he was right to say that we must involve firms that belong to organisations like the Energy Saving Trade Association. We must build on the concept of contract energy management to ensure that buildings are more efficient. If we can attract capital from the private sector, that will make energy efficiency more attractive for local authorities. We have had a very full debate and I am glad that the House welcomes the amendment. Advice to and from--as the hon. Member for Christchurch said--is the key to ensuring that we succeed in improving energy efficiency.
Mr. Leigh: As I was the only Conservative Member to whose speech my hon. Friend the Minister did not refer-- [Hon. Members:-- "He did."] If he did, I apologise. However, I repeat my question about my local authority of West Lindsey, which is a very small local authority. My hon. Friend dealt with the funding of local authorities, and he seemed to intimate that there were savings that could accrue to local authorities. He will be aware, however, that there is still a cost resource for local authorities in producing reports. Will he give a commitment on behalf of the Government that no extra costs will be imposed on small local authorities such as West Lindsey district council in drawing up the reports which, for such authorities, are a major expense?
Mr. Jones: Much will depend on where my hon. Friend's local authority stands in the pecking order in terms of what it has already done. As I have explained to hon. Members who have taken a long-standing interest in the subject, the Department has developed as part of the housing investment programme allocation system a requirement for local authorities to do an audit of their stock and to present an energy efficiency strategy. Many local authorities will need to do very little in addition to what they have already done. The very best will already be there, and over a period they will simply have to move through the various layers to achieve the energy efficiency savings that we ask of them.
Whether my hon. Friend's local authority is in the good, bad or indifferent category, I do not know. Perhaps he would like to come and discuss that with me and I can tell him, within the privacy of four walls, whether his local authority is with the goodies or the baddies. If it is among the goodies, it has no reason to fear that the requirement will do anything other than enhance its reputation and the energy efficiency of the homes that it owns and the other homes in its area, and win it much good will from people who are sometimes hard pressed by heating costs.
I commend the amendment to the House.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. Robert B. Jones: I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 1, line 14, after `means,' insert `--(a)'.
Column 1165Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss also No. 4, in page 1, line 16, at end insert `, or
(b) a mobile home, that is--
(i) in England and Wales or Scotland, a caravan within the meaning of Part I of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 (disregarding the amendment made by section 13(2) of the Caravan Sites Act 1968) which is a dwelling for the purposes of Part I or II of the Local Government Finance Act 1992,
(ii) in Northern Ireland, a caravan within the meaning of the Caravans Act (Northern Ireland) 1963 which is a dwelling-house for the purposes of the Rates (Northern Ireland) Order 1977.'.
Mr. Jones: I am pleased that the hon. Member for Christchurch has added her name to amendment No. 4. I am glad that the spirit of co- operation that has prevailed throughout our consideration of the Bill is continuing. However, I am sure that all Members present will welcome some explanation of what has led to this definition. Amendment No. 3 is purely a drafting amendment, and is necessary to identify the fact that the original definition of residential accommodation that has appeared on most versions of the Bill since our discussions started is only the first of two sub- definitions, which enables fuller account to be taken of mobile homes. The substantive amendment is amendment No. 4, which follows up the commitment I made in Committee to examine the best way of incorporating the hon. Lady's specific request to have, within the definition of residential accommodation, a reference to mobile homes.
From time to time, I come across mobile home sites and it is clear, without the need for detailed inspections, that many of the homes on those sites are fairly energy inefficient. It seems sensible to try to involve local authorities in getting such homes up to scratch, in addition to using the HEES grants that are, of course, already available to owners of mobile homes.
As I said in Committee, I have no objection in principle to such homes being covered, and it seems only right and proper that they should be included in a local authority's strategy. We found, however, that it was not as simple as it first appeared to produce a suitable definition. We also had to consider how best to include such homes in Northern Ireland, where relevant legislation is different from that in Great Britain. Nevertheless, the amendment, based on existing legal definitions, in which the definition of a mobile home is broadly speaking the same as that for a caravan, should meet the hon. Lady's wishes.
The amendment extends the legal definition of residential accommodation in the Bill to include, for Great Britain, caravans as defined in the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960. The definition now proposed covers any structure designed or adapted for human habitation which is capable of being moved from one place to another. Hon. Members may be interested to learn that railway rolling stock and tents are specifically excluded from the definition--
Mr. Fabricant: May I ask my hon. Friend not about rolling stock but about whether he has given any thought to extending the scope of the Bill to cover canal narrow boats and houseboats?
Column 116611.45 am
Mr. Jones: No, I have not, but perhaps during the debate I should. However, I hope that I shall not be pressed too hard to include tents and rolling stock.
Additionally, the caravans within the definition must be dwellings for the purposes of council tax. That will enable an energy conservation authority to identify easily mobile homes that can be regarded as permanently sited, and for which records will be available from the valuation lists.
Section 13(2) of the Caravan Sites Act 1968, which is referred to in the amendment, deals with large twin unit caravans. Those, again, are structures designed or adapted for human habitation, but are composed of not more than two sections and are capable of being designed to be assembled on site, and when assembled are physically capable of being moved by road from one place to another. Whatever the reasons for excluding them from other legislation, it is clearly right that those large and relatively immobile structures should be within the scope of the Bill.
The position in Northern Ireland is slightly different. References to the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 and the Local Government Finance Act 1992 do not extend to Northern Ireland. We therefore had to find some other legal definition which could ensure that coverage extended to Northern Ireland. As a consequence it is necessary to refer to Northern Ireland's equivalent legislation--the Caravans Act (Northern Ireland) 1963 and the Rates (Northern Ireland) Order 1977. These two pieces of legislation provide for exactly the same coverage as in England, Scotland and Wales. I have no reason to believe that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, which will act as the energy conservation authority for Northern Ireland, will have any difficulty in identifying the types of mobile homes that we want to cover.
The amendments should ensure that mobile homes designed for human habitation and used as reasonably permanent residential accommodation are not excluded from consideration when an authority draws up its energy conservation reports. The resultant definition of residential accommodation is, as I am sure hon. Members present will agree, short and concise.
There was a danger of the Bill's becoming too unwieldy, and possibly unworkable, if we had, for example, attempted to list all relevant residential accommodation. The list would surely have produced more lines of text than the Bill itself, and that would have been unnecessary and possibly unworkable, for reasons similar to those cited earlier in connection with the amendment concerning businesses. There is always a danger that specifically naming items for inclusion implies that everything else may be excluded. I believe that the definition now proposed for residential accommodation is the right one, and should provide an energy conservation authority with absolutely no difficulty in identifying the type of properties to be covered by the Bill. The specific reference to mobile homes deals with a small but important category, and I hope it will reassure the hon. Lady's constituents who live in such properties, and indeed all residents of such properties, that they have no reason to be concerned about how they will fare under the provisions of the Bill.
I commend the amendments to the House.
Column 1167Mrs. Maddock: I especially welcome amendments Nos. 3 and 4. As the Minister said, I raised the subject with him in Committee and I am grateful for his detailed attention to the matter.
My interest in the subject stems both from my experience as a member of the all-party mobile homes group and from my constituency interest. I have many mobile homes--or park homes, as they are often called--in my constituency. Only last week I presented an award for one of the best kept parks--Oak Tree Farm park in my constituency--and earlier this week I opened the park homes exhibit at the Ideal Home exhibition.
Mr. Jacques Arnold: Why, in that case, were mobile homes and caravans not included in the Bill in the first place? Could the hon. Lady also give a measured response to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) about insulating canal boats, and whether they should be covered by the Bill?
Mrs. Maddock: I was surprised that we got away so lightly in the debate on amendment No. 2 when I saw that the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), who usually wants to put a spanner in the works, was here. To answer the first part of his question, the omission was probably an oversight on the part of many people. We tried to get the definition of a residential property right, and I spent considerable time in the Private Bill Office and in talking to DOE officials.
Many hon. Members may not realise how much time and energy is taken up not by the talk that goes on in the Chamber but by discussing with experts the best way of achieving our ends. We have continued to talk about the best way to define residential properties, and I hope that we have got that right now.
The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire may not realise the fact, but I have a special interest in canal boats. For 30 years I have travelled on such boats on many of the canals in this country, including those in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. No doubt it would be most helpful and useful to people who live on those boats if the Bill covered them, but if it would hold up the Bill's passage, perhaps we should leave that for another day.
Mr. Robert B. Jones rose --
Mrs. Maddock: I can see that the Minister would like to comment.
Mr. Robert B. Jones: The hon. Lady will know that, in an entirely different capacity, I was a member of the all-party waterways group. The British Waterways Bill includes provisions for boat standards to be laid down. Hon. Members who are interested in that matter might like to pursue it with British Waterways as a part of its licensing procedures.
Mrs. Maddock: I am grateful to the Minister for that information, and I would be happy to support any efforts made in that direction. Many of my constituents who live in park homes and mobile homes have problems with ever-rising bills and outgoings of all sorts, despite the fact that mobile homes are often some of the smallest homes. As we are tackling energy inefficiency in the Bill--many of the older mobile homes are among the most inefficient when it comes to energy--it is clearly right to include that category of
Column 1168residential property in the Bill. It also gives a very useful way of targeting many elderly people who are on low incomes.
In many ways, I believe that mobile homes should be easier to insulate than some homes built in traditional ways. I have heard about the problems people have had with insulating cavity walls, and so on. It makes sense to include mobile homes, and they are a useful extra target within the Bill.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister and his civil servants for their strenuous efforts to include the measure. I look forward to continued inventive contributions from Conservative Members on this matter, which is open to a great deal of invention, but I urge all Members to support this amendment for the sake of constituents who are living in the type of home which is perhaps the worst insulated.
Mr. Matthew Banks: I have the privilege to represent a seaside constituency, and many of my hon. Friends will be well aware that many mobile home dwellers live permanently in such accommodation, particularly in seaside resorts. I welcome the Government amendment, and I am sorry that --as my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) pointed out--it was not in the Bill originally. The amendment fulfils the commitment which my hon. Friend the Minister made in Committee, and that is widely welcomed by my hon. Friends. There was some murmuring by hon. Members following the remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) about canal boats. Although my hon. Friend has a good sense of humour, the fact is that he raised a fair and pertinent point. While many people enjoy canal boats for recreational activities at weekend and on annual holidays, many people do live in them. I recognise, however, the difficulties of drafting an amendment that would include those individuals, but nevertheless I welcome the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister about the efforts that he has made in drafting this amendment. The amendment will cover England, Scotland, Wales and--most notably--Northern Ireland, where different rules apply. All too often I have heard disparaging remarks-- although not in this House--about those who live in mobile homes, but such homes do provide a permanent residence for many people. There are many more people who find that they live in them on a semi-permanent basis. As long as they are covered by the points in amendment No. 4, I see no reason why they should be disfranchised in any way from energy conservation.
The introduction of VAT on gas and electricity--while not done first and foremost for its revenue-raising capabilities, but to cut emissions--means that it is now more important to institute energy efficiency measures in permanent and mobile homes. Without this amendment, my constituents and hundreds, if not thousands, of others would not have the opportunity to be part of the energy conservation schemes which local authorities will be expected to fulfil. The nature of mobile homes--particularly those in seaside resorts--is such that, while those who live in them may enjoy some warm and sunny weather in summer, they are open for much of the time to the elements and to poor weather. Regrettably, in the United Kingdom--whether one is in Christchurch, in Southport or in the constituency of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute
Column 1169(Mrs. Michie)--we have too much rain. Those who live in mobile homes in seaside resorts can be subjected to wind and, at times, to gales. The opportunity for those people to have grants to insulate their properties--whether by pipe lagging, roof lagging or draught insulation--is very important. I find it rather surprising that that type of home was left out of the original Bill, particularly in view of the fact that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) suggested that she had spoken at great length with mobile home owners.
Mrs. Maddock: I hoped that I had made it clear that the measure was not included in the first place in a spirit of co-operation and in the hope of getting something on the statute book. Considerable time was given to discussing what the definition of a residential home should be, and hon. Members are lucky--as the Minister said--that we do not have a very long definition. The hon. Gentleman will know that the opportunity exists in Committee to get the Bill rather more as one would want it. That is why I asked the Minister about this amendment, and I hope that it will now get on the statute book.
Mr. Banks: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for clarifying that point. She has conceded a great deal, because the Bill will not impose on local authorities a duty to set out a specific 30 per cent. improvement in domestic energy savings. That is a major concession, and it is likely to ensure that the Bill passes into law. The more advisory approach which the Bill will have--it will not have the teeth which the hon. Lady had originally intended--is important. I welcome the point that she has just made, and the advisory nature of a target of 30 per cent. is particularly important.
To return to the amendment, if we were to leave out mobile home dwellers, we would be disfranchising a significant proportion of the population. While there are relatively few mobile home dwellers in my constituency, those people have just as much right to be subject to energy conservation reports. I welcome the Government amendments, although for obvious reasons I shall not deal with amendment No. 3 which is merely a drafting measure. I welcome the commitment made by my hon. Friend the Minister in bringing forward this amendment which will improve the Bill considerably and which certainly underlines the commitment that my hon. Friend made in Committee.
Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) expresses surprise that mobile homes were not originally included in the Bill. I am not surprised. It is most unfortunate that most mobile home owners find themselves disfranchised in so much legislation, including fundamental legislation such as landlord and tenant protection measures. Most mobile homes are not mobile. Many are in parks and do not have wheels attached to them. They are as immobile as any other home.
I am pleased that the amendment has been tabled. I should like to see the spirit of involving mobile homes in legislation extended at some time in the future to landlord and tenant legislation. Energy conservation is a two -way equation. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, there is the use of efficient products in the home such as efficient lighting, washing
Column 1170machines and so on. We seek to maximise the efficacy of a device while minimising the amount of energy that it uses. The other side of the equation is minimising the amount of heat or energy loss. 12 noon
Those of us who have done our O-level physics--perhaps some of us have even done A-level physics--know that energy, and in particular heat energy, is lost through convection, conduction and radiation. If ever there were a case of a particular environment losing heat through conduction, convection and radiation, it is the so-called mobile home.
A third part of the equation is ventilation. It is all very well insulating a home or mobile home to ensure that energy is not lost through convection. We must also ensure that there is no potential danger to the inhabitants of the home from insufficient or inefficient ventilation. That point particularly applies to mobile homes. That is why the energy conservation authorities could find their work cut out for them when it comes to advising mobile home owners. Such people have specific problems that need to be tackled. It is right and proper that they should be included in the Bill. I mentioned narrow boats and house boats in an intervention. The matter was subsequently referred to by my hon. Friends and Opposition Members. I find it surprising that house boats have not been included in the scope of the Bill. Hon. Members will know that I have particularly attractive waterways in my constituency. The British Waterways Board took me on one of its narrow boats along the canal in my constituency near Shugborough.
If I may do so without moving too far away from the amendment, I should like to put in a quick plug for Shugborough and the narrow boat waterway near the home of the Earl of Lichfield. It is an attractive area in which to own a narrow boat. The point is that many people live on narrow boats and houseboats--for example on the River Thames. They, too, should have access to the advice which will be available from the energy conservation authorities if the Bill becomes law. Such people have the same problems as mobile home owners.
Another specific point is of prime importance. I have already mentioned the danger to mobile home owners of lack of ventilation. Although many people heat their homes with electric storage heaters or gas central heating, many people in mobile homes and, dare I say it, houseboats and canal boats heat their homes with paraffin heaters. Hon. Members who have ever been on a canal boat, lived in a caravan or been on holiday in a caravan will know that paraffin heaters are potentially very dangerous. I hope that the energy conservation authorities will make a point of advising mobile home owners on more efficient and safer forms of heating.
I will not press the need to expand the amendment to include narrow boats and houseboats. If I did, the whole amendment might fall. That is certainly not my intention. However, just as I hope that legislation in years to come such as landlord and tenant, commonhold and leasehold legislation might encompass protection for mobile home owners, so I hope that the Bill when it becomes an Act might be amended in future to include people who live on narrow boats and houseboats. It is an omission that needs to be remedied. Having said that, the amendment is wise and timely and I commend it to the House.
Mr. Jacques Arnold: I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for tabling the amendment. When I first looked at the Bill, I was taken aback to see that mobile homes were excluded from it. The Bill has been promoted by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock), who comes from, one might say, the caravan belt of England. Whereas in Southampton there are not many caravans, I should have thought that the hon. Lady would be well aware of caravans and would have included mobile homes in her Bill. She explained that the problem was one of definition of mobile homes.
I notice that the amendment would insert "a mobile home". It is not beyond the wit of anyone who introduces a Bill in the House to put a full stop after "mobile home" and hope that someone somewhere will subsequently define it, as my hon. Friend the Minister has done in an extremely able fashion.
My constituency of Gravesham in Kent is not one of the greatest holiday destinations in the country. Nevertheless, I recommend it to hon. Members, because it is a great riverside borough. We have many historical associations. Pocahontas died there. Charles Dickens lived up the road. General Gordon looked after our fort before departing to deal with other matters in Khartoum.
As there is not a great flood of tourists into Gravesham, one would not at first notice caravans around my borough, just as the hon. Member for Christchurch seems not to have noticed mobile homes around her constituency. As I know my constituency well, I know that there are quite a number of mobile homes--for instance, at Southfields Shaw in the parish of Meopham, where there are sizeable caravans, which, although mobile, are effectively immobilised by the residents. Residents of mobile homes have considerable concerns about energy conservation, just as any householder does. The energy conservation schemes that we have discussed this morning are applicable to occupants of mobile homes. It does not require a great stretch of the imagination to understand why the take-up of home energy conservation grants and so on is low. Although an amateur in the matter of mobile homes, I have nevertheless noticed that most, if not all, do not have lofts in which owners can crawl around to put down the three inches of material to which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) referred. As my hon. Friend pointed out, we need more than three inches in lofts, which are not to be found in caravans. On a more serious point, I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to give some thought to applying home renovation grants to caravans. He might consider that in his deliberations and the review of home renovation grants that he is to carry out.
In conclusion, I certainly support the amendment. I admit that the definition is immensely short, in the light of what the Minister said. I, for one, have great confidence in his drafting powers and believe that the amendments that he has tabled fully cover the matter. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Christchurch has followed them up rapidly and given them her support.
Mr. Anthony Coombs: Like my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), the more I hear the mutual congratulation that has been endemic throughout the debate, especially that on this
Column 1172amendment, the more uneasy I become. When I read the terms of the amendment, I also became increasingly uneasy.
My constituency is one of the most beautiful in the United Kingdom. As a result, at the end of the second world war and in the 1950s, people poured out of the black country and Birmingham and took advantage of the lax planning legislation by erecting mobile homes in the Walshes, Little Lakes, Redstone, and Kingsland caravan parks in my constituency and effectively living in them permanently--as my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) said--albeit that they are in the anomalous situation of having to leave their homes for one month in every year to comply with planning legislation. In due course, we must consider that.
It is estimated that there are upwards of 4,000 caravans and mobile homes in my constituency and, although I accept the argument that constituents who live in such accommodation should not be disfranchised as regards their home energy efficiency needs, I am very concerned that the amendment takes little account of the enormous extra cost that will be imposed on local authorities, such as Wyre Forest district council--which is already spending about £2 million above its standard spending assessment and therefore has to be capped--which will have to look into the home insulation and the energy needs of caravan and mobile home owners.
Although he is not in his place, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid- Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) was absolutely correct to say that a large proportion of the assumptions that have been made under home insulation legislation, home energy efficiency schemes and the grant regimes do not apply to mobile homes and caravans. For instance, I am told that the maximum grant available for loft insulation under the home energy efficiency scheme is £198.70. Many people who live in mobile homes do not have lofts, so such grants are not available to them. The maximum grant available for draught proofing is £128.50, but that also does not apply to many mobile homes to the same extent that it applies to conventional homes.
I am worried that, within the existing grant regime, there will be no possibility of fulfilling the expectations that will be aroused among my constituents who live in mobile homes about potential energy efficiency improvements that can be made as a result of the surveys. We shall have a triumph of good intentions over achievement. As has been rightly said, the insulation problems of mobile home owners are far greater than those of people in conventional homes. They will expect something to be done about that. Many of them live on very low incomes and will be eligible for the grants, but they will be told that the maximum grant available under the HEES is £305. Given the amount of work that is required for many of those draughty, poorly insulated and rather elderly caravans and mobile homes, with respect, £305 will go absolutely nowhere.