Members have raised issues relating to Warm Front, eaga and contracts. We are very alive to the issues that have been raised with us, both today and in letters to the Department and to me. We are examining the existing contract in depth to ensure that it provides value for money and is being run as it should be. Indeed, we are examining all aspects of the Warm Front scheme, because the contract ends in 2010. We want all the benefits that
we think we can obtain from the scheme to be in place during the forthcoming financial year, and we want to improve the scheme wherever that is possible.
In the longer term, we will look at delivery models. We understand the point that has been made on the subject. Companies directly related to eaga were set up at one point because there were problems with finding sufficient installers, and there was a capacity problem. Whether the same model is appropriate for the future is an issue that we are happy to hear debated.
As we review all aspects of our fuel poverty programme and examine the Warm Front scheme in depth, we are keen to tackle some of the problems that have been raised in relation to targeting, the contributions that people must make, and better technologies. For instance, we are considering the introduction of low-carbon alternative technologies. We are in the process of installing 125 solar thermal units to establish whether the fuel savings are as expected, and to assess their suitability for use by vulnerable households. We are also developing a pilot for the inclusion of air source heat pumps to be fitted under the Warm Front scheme.
As well as providing installations and insulation under the scheme, we carry out benefit checks. Previously such checks were offered only to applicants who were not eligible for a Warm Front grant, but in 2007 we announced that the service would be widened to all Warm Front applicants. That has made a tremendous difference. Since April 2008, over 65,000 benefit entitlement checks have been completed. A new or additional benefit eligibility has been identified in 45 per cent. of cases, which has resulted in an average weekly increase in household income of £31 per applicant, or £1,600 per year.
The National Audit Office has raised a number of issues, as has the Select Committee, and we are responding to those representations. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Member for Chorley, for Hendon and for Rossendale and Darwen (Janet Anderson) for raising with me specific cases on behalf of their constituents. I assure them that in-depth consideration is being given to all of them.
What are we achieving through Government investment and the actions of energy companies? We are making steady progress in improving the energy efficiency of homes, while acknowledging that there is still a long way to go. The question is: does the Bill offer the best way of securing greater progress in the tackling of fuel poverty? It is not obvious that it does. One of the serious matters of debate for all of us who are concerned about fuel poverty is how to target programmes effectively, but the Bill offers no means of targeting households; rather it tackles buildings.
Simon Hughes: The Minister will be aware that we have six minutes left. The Conservative Front-Bench team, my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), and the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench team have said that they are willing to collaborate to produce an acceptable Bill. Given that the Minister has now spoken for longer than anyone else, apart from my hon. Friend, would she be willing to consider taking her arguments into Committee, rather than continue them past 2.30, when the House will not have a chance to decide on the Bill today?
Joan Ruddock: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I want to get to the crucial part of the debate, which is the issue of whether it is appropriate to put all the targets into the energy efficiency programmes and the particular bands that the Bill provides for. It is a perfectly legitimate approach, but the Government are already considering many more comprehensive programmes of energy efficiency. As it stands, the Bill proposes using standard assessment procedure ratings, and requiring all fuel-poor households, except those defined as hard to treat, to be upgraded to a SAP 81 rating by 2016. That ignores the diversity of the UK housing stock, more than 40 per cent. of which has a SAP rating of between 39 and 54, and ignores the diversity of the people in them. Coupled with an absolute duty, that is an extraordinary commitment to seek to bind any Government to.
Hon. Members seem sometimes to forget that there are only two ways of providing finance for such programmes. Either the obligation falls on the energy companies and they recoup the costs by loading them on to everyone else's bills, or the obligation falls on the taxpayer. While the principles behind the Billimproving energy efficiency in a bid to prevent fuel povertyare sound, the targets are uncosted, unrealistic and not thought through.
The Bill proposes that existing homes with fuel-poor inhabitants should be upgraded to a SAP 81 ratingthat is, a band B gradeor a band C rating if they are hard-to-treat homes. As the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome has said, he is prepared to reduce that level, but it is currently estimated that only 1 million-odd homes in Britain today have been brought to the band C standard. Indeed only 30,000 properties in England are at the band B standard. The average SAP rating of all homes is only 50 at the moment. Therefore, even with the proposals that he might make, we think that this is an unrealistic target.
Mr. Heath: The hon. Lady knows perfectly well that I have already said that this is a matter that we can discuss in Committee. She is clearly determined to talk the Bill out today. I want her to address one issue. She has returned time and again to the legal duty, which she says is so abhorrent. I have a quotation from the hon. Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas), a former Minister in the Department. He said on 27 November 2007, only a couple of years ago,
I can assure you all that we remain committed to our legal duty under the Warm Homes Act to ending fuel poverty by 2010.
The hon. Gentleman has completely ignored the points that have been made consistently from the Labour Benches. It is in the original legislation
that was passed by the Houseit is about what is reasonably practicable. We have not changed our mind. I have said repeatedly that we remain committed to our target.
The estimated cost of bringing a property up to the band C rating would be between £10,000 and £20,000, depending on the type of property. We think that to bring all properties currently occupied by fuel-poor households to at least SAP 81 rating, or indeed SAP 69 rating for hard-to-treat homes, would cost in the region of £50 billion. Although the technology is improving all the time, we cannot be sure at this stage that the technology will exist to bring all existing homes up to the required standard, by the time proposed in the Bill. Regrettably, therefore, we cannot accept these proposals as the right way forward, but that does not mean that we do not accept the imperative to make a step change in domestic energy efficiency to meet both our climate change and fuel poverty agendas.
Sir Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): I am grateful for this opportunity to raise in the House the issue of the Royal Hospital Haslar. It has been raised before. I have maintained to colleagues that it is the best-known hospital in the House of Commons, and the file on the subject is 1 ft high.
The Haslar site was bought in 1745. It is a glorious 55-acre site overlooking the mouth of Portsmouth harbour, and it became the first purpose-built hospital for the Royal Navy. It was opened in 1754 and took some 1,800 patients. Its distinctive high walls were there to prevent the patients from escaping should they wish to do so, having been press-ganged into the Navy initially. It is historically very interesting. The expression up the creek refers to Haslar creek, which is not a good place to be. It was for years the main home of the Royal Naval Medical Service, but following changes it eventually became the only military hospital in the United Kingdom, and was renamed the Royal Hospital Haslar. That was the position on 10 December 1998. On that date, the Government announced they were proposing that the military forces withdraw from Haslar, and it was stated that the hospital would close in about two years. In fact, some 10 years later the Royal Hospital Haslar is still there.
The decision at the time caused anger, distress and even outrage. A march in January 1999 was attended by 22,000 people, which was thought to be the largest number of people ever to protest about the closure of a hospital. We had every kind of demonstration. We had Save Haslarhundreds of people holding torches pointing upwards, which was broadcast live on television. We also had every kind of rally and petition. Local feeling was extremely strong; there was a church vigil, I remember.
The concern was over two issues: the military aspect and the civilian aspect. In respect of the military aspect, the hospital was the home of the Defence Medical Services, and it was losing its home. The proposal was to build a new £200 million facility at Selly Oak in Birmingham, but that was scrapped for budget reasons. For many years, there had been shortfalls in the armed forces in a number of faculties, including general medicine, general surgery, orthopaedic surgery and anaesthetics. There has for many years been a problem in the medical forces, not so much with recruitment, because the armed forces pay for the training of young doctors and nurses, but with retention, which remains extremely poor. Were it not for the reserves, it would not be possible for the armed forces to have the medical back-up they so badly need.
The situation remains unresolved. There is a proposal to move some facilities to Lichfield, which is not convenientto park the other facilities the other side of Birmingham. We maintain that the facilities at Fort Blockhouse should remain. The Ministry of Defence hospital units where military personnel work alongside civilians have much to say for them, because they give the military experience across a wide range of medicine and surgery. However, there is a problem, because the military personnel work alongside civilians, who, in
many cases, earn more than they do and do not have to go to Afghanistan from time to time. That does not help the retention of personnel in the armed forces medical services.
I come to the civilian aspects of the loss of Haslar. We did warn, in what, I thought, were dramatic terms, that lives would be lost in the ambulance between Gosport and the Queen Alexandra hospital in Cosham as a result of the closure of the accident and emergency unit at Haslar, but what we did not know was that one of the first lives to be lost would be that of the local mayor. The situation is tragic, because there is a trade-off between the sophistication of the medical services and the speed of treatment. Although survey after survey shows that medical staff favour larger, sophisticated hospitals, survey after survey also shows that patients prefer to be treated fairly close to them, in their local facilities.
The affection for Haslar is not simply nostalgia; it is firmly rooted in decades of excellent surgery and medicine provided locally in a spotlessly clean and smart environment. There is little or no affection for the huge Queen Alexandra hospital in Cosham, which is inconvenient, from a transport point of view, for my constituents and has been built at a private finance initiative cost, over 30 years, of £1 billion. The journey to it is difficult and the hospital has inadequate car parking facilities. I know and respect the staff at Queen Alexandra hospital, but there is a long way to go before they have one fraction of the affection that Haslar hospital has in peoples minds.
The 10-year battle for the retention of Haslar is still not over, although, in theory, the hospital will close in July 2009. There are huge planning problems in relation to the development of Haslar: it has 815,000 sq ft of buildings, 13 of which are grade II or grade II* listed; there are 60,000 graves on the site; the whole of the park and gardens has been identified by English Heritage as a site of national historical interest; and the local authority, Gosport borough council, has designated the area for health and community use.
Where do we go from here? The plan is to move on, and Defence Estates has commissioned the Princes Regeneration Trust to carry out an inquiry by design report. Perhaps the best way for me to proceed is by reading a letter that I received recently from the private secretary to the Prince of Wales. It stated:
The approach we are taking is for the Enquiry by Design report to be included in the marketing pack for the site so that developers can see and appreciate the sites potential and His Royal Highness involvement.
The Princes Regeneration Trust report is, indeed, an extremely useful starting point, which goes into great detail. Most local people feel that it is an extremely helpful starting point when considering what should happen to the site.
The good news is that very many people and institutions wish to be involved in the Haslar site, including a business syndicate that I have met, which is a leading developer with a fine record of making use of historical buildings, other companies with health-related interests, and a number of service charities, including Help for Heroes and the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust. Many people feel that the site can usefully be used to continue the armed forces existing role.
I know the way in which government works: when a decision has been taken, people cannot turn it round, because the Government have made a decision and do not wish to go back on it. If one tries to say, as I tried to say to the Ministers ministerial colleague two days ago, when he was good enough to see me at the Ministry of Defence, that there is a future role for Haslar in an armed forces connection, peoples eyes glaze over, because, as the French would say, it is a route barréeone does not go that way.
I believe that if sufficient support can come forward for the evolution and development of Haslar, in due course the armed forces, having made their decision to close Haslar, will see that there are facilities there that are useful to them. Many of those connected with the service charities believe that too. There is a need for facilities for the armed forces to supplement those at Selly Oak, which are now widely regarded as excellent in their field, and the outstanding facilities at Headley court. There is an acceptance that post-traumatic stress disorder is manifested some 15 years after the event, and those suffering from it need further support in a services environment. There is also a need for convalescent and rehabilitation facilities to lie alongside those at Selly Oak and Headley court. Haslar could play a role in such provision.
My plea to the Minister today is to respect the traditions of Haslar and take a positive attitude to its continued use by encouraging local authorities and the Princes Regeneration Trust to continue their work to find a role for Haslar, and not to allow it to close in July. If we work hard together, we could bring forward plans that would allow the gates to remain open after that date.
There is a sort of precedent. When Greenwich hospital became surplus to requirements, the proposal was that it should be sold and it was intended that very few restrictions would be put on its future use. The issue was put to the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, which I happened to chair, and we consulted local peoplewe visited Greenwich and took evidence from themand service personnel who took the view that the future use of Greenwich should be consistent with its traditions and historical record. The Committee passed that into legislation and that is why Greenwich is now used by Westminster university for purposes consistent with its historical tradition. It would be the right approach for Haslar to be treated similarly.