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David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Let me first pick up one or two points from earlier speakers. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) was quick to cite the band D council tax statistic that is so often bandied around—no pun intended. It is a particularly misleading statistic, because better-off areas tend to have more properties in higher bands than D, therefore the median property would be a band C or D. A far better measure is council tax per dwelling, not at band D level. It is not surprising if Conservative areas have a lower band D council tax.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said that it was unknown for there to be a Budget prior to an election that was not a come-on to the electorate—I paraphrase a little. I point him to the example of the Budget by Roy Jenkins in which, despite great pressure from his Labour colleagues, he was very abstemious in that regard and Labour lost the ensuing election. I do not know whether the two facts are linked.

The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) mentioned abortion. Wide cross-party support has been given to an early-day motion asking for a lower limit of 20 weeks, in some cases 18 weeks, or in my view, 16 weeks. He also discussed the merging of police forces in Essex. We have a similar situation in the east midlands, where there is no support for an east midlands-wide force but that seems to be our fate.

I have the privilege of representing the constituency of North-West Leicestershire, which is, and has been for centuries, a mining and mineral seat. Unfortunately, the mining has now disappeared but it is still very much a constituency where the extraction of roadstone and building materials is an important part of the local economy. In the pre-Christmas Adjournment debate, I raised concerns about the roadstone coating industry. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead was good enough to say in her winding-up speech that she had been riveted by it and that it had been the highlight of her parliamentary year. Again, I paraphrase a little.

The builders' materials industry and construction products firms located in North-West Leicestershire have some problems. Like every other Member of Parliament, I visit employment bases in my area as frequently as I can, and I am in regular contact with them. Those firms have had a mixed reaction to last week's Budget. They point out that a good number of firms are facing the triple problem of high energy prices, participation in the emissions trading scheme, and an increasing climate change levy, which they are not sure will help companies to become more energy efficient. They are happy about working within the climate change agreements but suggest that it would be more effective to have more firmly enforced climate change agreements, which imposed penalties, instead of a levy that is recycled back into the broader industry.
 
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Some of the measures in the Budget that assist firms in my area and other parts of the country are welcome. I am pleased that our Government remain committed to reducing red tape and speeding up the planning system. However, we must wait and see whether the words, which we have heard before—not only from our Government; it is a difficult goal—about reduction of red tape will be followed by effective action.

The fact that there is no significant increase in other businesses taxes has been met with relief. However, the Government need to acknowledge the time required by industry in North-West Leicestershire to absorb past tax increases. I look forward to the Chancellor's setting a clear programme for further easing the tax burden on business rather than simply saying that he is not making it worse.

The Budget had an environmental theme. As someone who was active in environmental pressure groups even before I joined the Labour party, I welcome that and I am pleased that the environment is a Government priority. However, the construction products industry in North-West Leicestershire believes that the measures introduced have fallen short of what is possible. There are some genuine opportunities to provide financial incentives to improve energy efficiency, which would benefit firms in my area. Although plans to ensure that an additional 250,000 homes are properly insulated and the £50 million extra funding for micro-generation are welcome, they are relatively modest measures given the scale of what needs to be achieved. The industry and I would like a clear, long-term strategy for making existing building stock more energy efficient.

Mr. Heath: As a fellow Member for a mining and quarrying constituency, may I bring the hon. Gentleman back to aggregates? Has his constituency experienced the benefits of the aggregates levy in dealing with the after-effects or continuing effects of quarrying? Is he as alarmed as we are in Somerset at any prospect of the proceeds of that levy being nationalised and distributed throughout the country rather than in those areas that are directly affected by quarrying?

David Taylor: Yes, the aggregates levy has made a significant impact on the numerous quarries in North-West Leicestershire. I remember being part of a lobby to the Financial Secretary at its inception, but I have to say that its benefits have been limited and its downside even more significant than was feared when it was introduced.

I want to consider ways in which carbon emissions from existing housing stock can be reduced more rapidly. The 2003 energy White Paper stated that it placed energy efficiency at the heart of UK energy policy and sustainability. The sharp rise in energy costs for domestic consumers and industry in North-West Leicestershire and elsewhere in the past year serves to underline the economic as well as environmental benefits of improved energy efficiency.

The construction products industry is a major user of energy in producing and supplying its goods. It continues to invest heavily in measures to improve
 
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energy efficiency and generally enhance environmental performance, as I know from my visits to the numerous sites in my area. The industry has a critical role to play in increasing the energy efficiency of other parts of the UK economy.

Domestic households are responsible for 30 per cent. of total UK energy use. That is the equivalent of approximately 40 million tonnes of carbon a year. Of that, 82 per cent. is used on heating and hot water. More thermally efficient heating systems and better insulated homes can substantially cut those emissions and relieve the pressure on sections of the economy and society that are being asked to bear the burden of reducing carbon emissions.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to intervene on my hon. Friend and I agree with him about domestic premises. However, does he also agree that it is especially riling that many public buildings are unnecessarily hot? I am sure that that has much to do with those of us who work in them getting ill because when we go outside, we immediately feel the worst of the cold. If the heating in public buildings could be turned down by 5o or even 10o, I am sure that we would save an enormous amount of energy. Does my hon. Friend agree?

David Taylor: Yes. If one drives past the Palace of Westminster in the small hours of the morning, it is disappointing to see the extent of the lighting on large parts of the parliamentary estate. Surely we should do more about heating and lighting.

The construction products industry welcomes the wide variety of measures that the Government have introduced in the past seven years to help household energy efficiency and to keep homes warm. The decent homes target has begun to deliver significant improvements in energy efficiency in the social housing sector, and the commitment to the warm front programme has helped many vulnerable private sector households.

Although the current mix of policy measures is lifting many households out of fuel poverty, it does not yet deliver the significant change in the required related housing investment. That must happen if the Government are to secure their target of a reduction of 5 million tonnes of carbon in household emissions in 2010.

The disappointing reduction so far is due to two factors. First, many existing programmes have been primarily directed at lower income households to tackle fuel poverty. I understand and endorse that. Secondly, the greatest environmental problems are emissions from poorly insulated, inefficiently heated and, typically, larger homes. I occupy a similar home. Indeed, such dwellings are often occupied by higher income households for whom energy costs are a small proportion of their expenditure. How do we provide incentives to that large group of people to tackle the energy inefficiency of their homes?

The Government should develop a much more comprehensive strategy for curbing emissions by all households. They should do that by building on the existing programme, which is already tackling fuel poverty. Without a clear strategy and a well resourced
 
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approach, industry will continue to bear the brunt of the necessary reductions to deliver the Kyoto and other targets. The domestic and transport sectors must play a bigger part. In all three cases, there will be a beneficial effect for firms such as the construction products industry in North-West Leicestershire and elsewhere, which are in the engine room of the economy. They are pleased to be there but believe that they bear more than their fair share of that target burden.

1.38 pm


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