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Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware that both Members who represent Milton Keynes wholeheartedly support his Bill. Does he know of the work being undertaken by English Partnerships in Milton Keynes? In one residential development, the brief includes a menu of sustainable development features from which the developers are asked to choose, including heat and power from renewable sources and combined heat and power systems. I very much welcome the Bill as a means of building on such work and making those processes easier.

Dr. Whitehead: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am indeed aware of that development. Housing bodies and local authorities are considering how they can develop building standards in terms of the heat and power used in buildings. I thoroughly applaud such initiatives.

In the context of my comments on energy use in domestic properties, it makes sense to look closely at how we heat and power our homes. The trick is to work out how we can do that while keeping our homes warm and economically powered at an increasingly high standard of comfort and amenity. Too many people still live in poorly insulated homes that are costly to heat and to power. They are often in real fuel poverty, which means the inability to pay both the costs of living in general and the costs of fuel in a particular household.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Has the hon. Gentleman just defined fuel poverty as inability to meet the cost of living in general? That is what he has just said, so is that what fuel poverty means in the Bill?

Dr. Whitehead: The right hon. Gentleman intervened halfway through my sentence and perhaps it was unwise of me to give way. I was saying that fuel poverty means
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the choice that some people who are not well-off and are living in difficult circumstances may have to make between paying the fuel bills for their homes—if their homes are not well insulated, the bills may be high—and paying for other necessities of life. That is a reasonable consequence to infer from a statement about fuel poverty. Although the number of households in that position has come down considerably as a result of measures that have been undertaken over recent years, more than 1 million households in England are still in that position.

In considering how to make progress on heating and powering our homes, we need to look in two directions: we need to make our present homes more energy efficient, and we need to ensure that the next generation of homes, which we shall be building over the next 20 years, will be of the highest energy-efficiency standard and will provide low-cost energy and high-energy-efficiency living.

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): I support the hon. Gentleman's Bill. If one turns the pages of glossy magazines such as Country Life or The Field, one sees lots of wonderful, green houses which are very fuel-efficient, and they all cost about one or two million pounds. Would the Bill apply to ordinary, average-priced housing, which affects most of the people in this country? I hope it will. It is my ambition to live in the greenest house in Salisbury, and I am visiting my Royal Institute of British Architects mentor in Salisbury, Gerald Steer, in a couple of weeks to talk about the possibility of providing proper green houses—fuel-efficient houses—for the average house buyer, not just the rich.

Dr. Whitehead: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I am delighted to hear that he is able to support my Bill. The point that he makes, about the need to ensure that these provisions relate to ordinary houses that cost an ordinary amount of money and perform an ordinary function for everybody in their daily life, is at the heart of what we should be doing. It is true that there have been some developments that are immensely costly but very energy efficient, and to get those two factors in proportion is an important part of the way in which we need to progress.

The Government have done a great deal to move in that direction, in existing homes and new build. We have the Warm Front grant system for making homes more energy efficient. We have the new part L of the building regulations, setting new levels of required energy efficiency for new houses. We have a previous round of regulations that have introduced condensing boilers and low-emissivity glazing as standard in new homes. Our homes are becoming more energy efficient in their building design and as a result of the retrofitting of cavity wall insulation, loft insulation and other devices.

But what if we could move a step further? What if our houses, as well as being more passively energy efficient, could assist, through the devices that were installed in them as standard when they were built, or that could be fitted when existing devices wore out, in producing some or even all of the energy that that home would consume?

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that in my
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constituency the Richmond Society, which is one of the oldest local residents' groups working on heritage and conservation, has been so inspired by this Bill and the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill that it has set up a committee to see whether it can work with the building regulations, as the hon. Gentleman proposes, to introduce such benefits, working in harmony with the heritage and conservation that has been a hallmark of the area. That is a huge step forward.

Dr. Whitehead: I am very pleased to hear that news. If the discussions in this Chamber on my Bill and the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill can make such changes in the way people at all levels approach the question of energy efficiency and positive-energy-efficiency building, that will have been a great step forward indeed.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about the importance of energy efficiency. Given that his Government are proposing that hundreds of thousands of new homes will be built in our country in the next 20 to 30 years, is it not imperative that we make the best use that we can as a nation of the 720,000 existing empty properties? It is all very well to talk about energy efficiency, but the best way to deal with that would be to ensure that the homes we have are filled with people living in them before we build new ones.

Dr. Whitehead: The hon. Gentleman is right; it is very important that the homes that are available for occupation in this country be occupied. But it is also important that the homes that are occupied are very energy efficient, and the two go together. Certainly we are doing people no favours if we bring property back into use but that property is poorly insulated, is not energy efficient and provides a poor living experience for the people who move in. One clause in my Bill, which I shall discuss later if the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, relates specifically to that question as far as new building is concerned.

We can already produce energy in houses. We can do that in ways that are not on the drawing board or the testing bench and are with us now. We do not have to wait for a technological breakthrough to see what we can do. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) will shortly move into a house that is so energy efficient that, using various means of heating, power and insulation, he can meet all his own energy requirements in his home and can sell substantial amounts of surplus energy—I think, 50 per cent. more energy than the house uses—back to the national grid. Obviously, my hon. Friend will be buying drinks frequently in the bar for all his friends from now on with the proceeds that he will receive from that surplus energy.

My aim is much more modest. Along with some 80,000 home owners in the UK, I have a solar thermal collector on my roof that produces about a third of my hot water heating supply each year. Solar photovoltaic roofs on a few thousand homes supply a substantial proportion of electricity that is consumed. Ground heat pumps can supply space heating to displace imported energy. With us shortly will be domestic combined heat and power boilers able to heat the home and produce
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electricity for use in the house or for export to the grid. New miniature domestic wind turbines are becoming available that can harness free electricity, and can power fridges, washing machines, televisions and lighting around the home.

Those developments in domestic power have been likened to the early days of the personal computer revolution. People once assumed that they would sit in front of a dumb terminal connected at some distance by cable to a vast mainframe. However, within a short time of their inception, we had intelligent machines in our homes, networking with each other and giving us control of information technology at the press of a button. Those ways to heat and power homes will become commonplace in 10 years' time, with the enormous benefit of possibly reducing CO 2 emissions by a huge amount, thus benefiting people's fuel bills and domestic energy security.

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