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Household Energy Efficiency

7. Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): If she will make a statement on progress in promoting household energy efficiency. [19603]

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): The Government set out an ambitious package of measures for the household sector in the energy efficiency action plan last year and key elements of this have now been implemented.

Mr. Newmark: Councillor Roger Walters of Braintree district council has recently introduced an innovative council tax rebate scheme that rewards home owners who choose to improve household efficiency by installing wall cavity insulation. How can the Minister justify lowering the standards of energy efficiency regulation promised in the 2003 White Paper when local government is already paving the way in promoting energy efficiency?
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Mr. Morley: I am not clear what the hon. Gentleman means when he speaks of lowering the standards of energy efficiency. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister recently announced that part L of the new building regulations is to be upgraded from April next year. There is also to be a new code of sustainable building, which will go beyond the new higher levels and which we will apply to dwellings built with Government money. The scheme in Braintree is innovative, and I congratulate the council on working with Centrica on the energy efficiency commitment, which was introduced by the Government. Such schemes have much to teach other councils about energy efficiency.

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware of a 2004 survey by the Building Research Establishment, which found that one third of new homes did not comply with energy efficiency standards? Does he accept that the potential problem of energy efficiency in new buildings undermines the good work of the energy efficiency action plan and new building regulations? Will he communicate to his colleagues in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister the urgency of addressing the issue and possibly introducing further regulations to assist the implementation of the existing ones?

Mr. Morley: I agree with my hon. Friend that it is one thing to have new higher standards, but if the regulations are not enforced, they do not count for very much. The failure rate in the pressure testing of new homes is unacceptable. I am glad to say, however, that as part of the package announced by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, it is intended to raise the inspection level and standards of pressure testing of new homes. That must go with the new higher standards.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Does the Minister intend that through the planning process, local authorities should be able to set higher targets than those that he has set? What is the Government's target for the number of zero-energy houses to be built in the south-east?

Mr. Morley: The Government are keen to encourage the building of zero-energy houses. Local authorities can influence that through the planning regulations and the planning detail that they go into in relation to new developments. The code of sustainable building that I mentioned will be designed with a series of levels. The highest level will be zero emission. It will go further than the current "excellent" standard for eco-building from the BRE. I know that local authorities such as the Greater London authority are extremely interested in promoting low carbon and zero-carbon homes as part of new developments such as the Thames Gateway. Local authorities have a key role to play in that.

Ed Balls (Normanton) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend join me in highlighting the progress that has been made over the past few years in tackling home energy efficiency and fuel poverty by the Warm Front programme, which is run by one of Britain's leading social enterprises and has helped over 1 million homes in our country and over 1,600 homes in my constituency? Will he reassure pensioners in my constituency that
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under the present Government no part of our home energy efficiency programme will be returned to VAT on fuel at 17.5 per cent.?

Mr. Morley: I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that we have no plans for the latter, although I would not presume to speak for the Chancellor. That would be very unwise, but other hon. Members are free to take their chances. The Warm Front programme has been extremely successful in taking millions of pensioners, people on low incomes and disabled people out of fuel poverty, in line with the Government's manifesto commitments. In the current round, £170 million is allocated for that. As my hon. Friend rightly said, Eaga is the organisation delivering that programme and doing that very well. I encourage all hon. Members to take part in the promotion of those schemes during the Warm Energy week, for the benefit of their constituents.

Mr. Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): Given the role that community heat schemes can play in promoting household energy efficiency, does the Minister believe that the renewables obligation should be extended to promote renewable heat, particularly in relation to biomass?

Mr. Morley: We are undertaking a climate change programme review and renewable heat is one of the issues under consideration. The community energy programme has been very successful in encouraging biomass projects and community district heating projects, and we will continue it.

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that the Government will take urgent action to increase energy efficiency and microgeneration? The Government should stop talking about energy efficiency and actually do something to deliver long-term improvements in it. It is vital that they provide certainty to allow investment in the market for energy efficiency and microgeneration, which would lead to a price reduction and is a major step towards tackling climate change. Will the Minister confirm that he is seeking to introduce energy efficiency measures—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is far too many supplementaries.

Mr. Morley: May I gently point out to the hon. Lady that this Government introduced the energy efficiency commitment, which has been successful? We also introduced the Warm Front programme, which we have discussed, and the decent homes standard, which will raise the standard of local authority housing. Those Government commitments have assisted millions of people and are not insignificant. I am a great enthusiast for microgeneration and welcome the fact that my colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry are consulting on an action plan for microgeneration to see how we can promote it and address barriers that might restrict its growth. A lot of the technology is produced in this country, and it can contribute to reducing emissions.
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Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): The Minister has said that his approach is successful, but the latest figures show that CO 2 emissions from the domestic sector have risen from 37.7 million tonnes in 1997 to 41.2 million tonnes. Buildings contribute almost half of all Britain's greenhouse gas emissions. Why have the Government cut their own target for household savings from 5 million tonnes to 4.2 million tonnes of CO 2 ? How can the Minister justify a 16 per cent. reduction in his own target?

Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman must understand that we are not interested in cutting targets, but we must work on the current figures from the domestic sector. The domestic and non-domestic sectors are major contributors to CO 2 emissions and the issues are not simple. The Government are not hiding information and we are trying to be open and transparent. We have introduced new measures, which have not been seen before in this country, and we are confident that we will make progress on reducing CO 2 emissions from those sectors.

Live Animal Exports

8. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): What recent discussions she has had with her EU counterparts on restricting the export of live animals. [19604]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): We have regular discussions with our EU counterparts on live animal exports. Last year, we agreed to improvements in the welfare of animals transported in the EU, although the improvements did not go as far as the UK would have liked. We will continue to press for more improvements and the hon. Gentleman knows that the proportion of UK meat exported live has fallen significantly under this Labour Government.

Tim Loughton: That may well soon change as live cattle exports resume to the continent. The Minister knows that animal welfare and transportation standards in the UK are far superior to those in most continental countries—and they are generally adhered to. Is he sure that standards have improved since beef exports were suspended, particularly for veal calves exported for fattening to places such as France and Holland, where transport and accommodation arrangements leave an awful lot to be desired?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, I can confirm that welfare standards have improved and they will improve further when last year's agreement, which will specifically improve the conditions under which calves may be transported, comes into force next year. Veal crates, which have been outlawed in this country for a long time, will also be outlawed across the EU by the beginning of 2007.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): The Minister may be aware that several of us have had considerable correspondence from constituents,
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prompted by Compassion in World Farming, about the failure to observe a proper inspection regime at some of the Channel ports. What can be said to reassure them?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am satisfied that, as the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) said, we probably have the best inspection regime of any European Union country. Indeed, if one asks the experts at the Commission how they think that Britain performs on the welfare of animals and transport, they too will say that we perform very well. One of the important measures that was agreed last year means that the Commission will be much more proactive in ensuring that the rules are applied evenly across the EU, including in member states that have not had such a good record as we have.

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