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Obviously, I take on board the hon. Gentleman's comments, and he is an expert in this field, but the key point I made at the beginning of my speech is that energy efficiency has always been the poor relation and that all too often people leap to discuss other, perhaps more sexy, matters such as heat pumps, the renewables heat incentive or renewable energy. While I want a full debate-and, of course, I will answer the
hon. Gentleman's questions as best I can-I also want to focus the discussion on energy efficiency, because it is the most important and the best value-for-money consideration in terms of saving carbon.
Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): Can the Minister confirm that the coalition parties will agree to implement the previous Government's commitment to ensure that all new homes are carbon-neutral by 2015?
Gregory Barker: That is an important target. We are committed to carbon neutrality, and I know that my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government are looking to see if there is any room for making the target more effective. Perhaps I may write to the hon. Gentleman with the very latest on that?
David Wright (Telford) (Lab): The Minister and I served together on the Environmental Audit Committee a few years ago. Will he comment on the future of the boiler scrappage scheme, a tremendous energy-efficiency measure that has been very successfully delivered, and will he look at the possibility of extending the scheme to cover gas fires? A company in my constituency produces very energy-efficient gas fires. If we were to support it, we would see real progress not only in boiler scrappage, but in the scrappage of other lower performing products such as wasteful gas fires.
Gregory Barker: The hon. Gentleman is right: the boiler scrappage scheme was highly effective. Although it was not a large scheme, it was both very good and very timely, and I will be closely examining whether we ought to take it further. I know that the hon. Gentleman has expertise on this, and if he would like to talk to me about it, I would be very grateful for the opportunity to pick his brains.
Mr Speaker: Order. May I interrupt the Minister to try to help a new Member? I very gently say to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) that whatever gifts and traits the Minister possesses, he does not have eyes in the back of his head, so if the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene, it is not enough simply to stand; he must make himself audible.
My hon. Friend has talked about energy saving on the continent, and one thing that they do very well there is install central boilers for different sorts of energy generation when constructing new housing developments. That must be done at the planning stage, of course, so that the amount of hot water going to each house can be metered and households can then pay for their own supply, but central boilers can produce savings of up to 50%. Will my hon. Friend the Minister consider that option?
Gregory Barker: Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I am very interested in such matters, and think there is far greater scope for us to be much more ambitious in terms of community combined heat and power. Such a decentralised energy agenda offers huge scope in Britain. However, for a variety of reasons, both local as well as central Government ones, we have not pushed it. In countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark, however, community combined heat and power make up a substantial part of energy output. As my hon. Friend says, it is much more efficient and I assure him we are looking into it.
As I have said, despite some interesting initiatives in recent years, nothing is commensurate with the enormous size of the challenge we face. The reality is that we still have a multi-billion pound investment gap. It is hardly surprising, however, that progress has been patchy. Since 1997, we have had a veritable alphabet soup of acronyms, schemes and quangos, leaving both the consumer and business somewhat bewildered: EEC, CERT, CESP, LCIF, EST, LCCC, CT, ETF, CRC and CCA. The list goes on and on, and each scheme is accompanied by new pamphlets, advertising and messages, further complicating the landscape for confused consumers and businesses. Individually, all those schemes have merit, but taken together they have failed to deliver on the scale that we need. The fact is that we need to pick up the pace dramatically if we are to reach the remaining 14 million households in the UK within a meaningful time scale.
It is clear that in these difficult times, with a record deficit, the current model is simply not up to the scale of the task. We need a game changer. We must remove the blinkers that have constrained previous policy thinking. We need to bring in new models of installation, innovation to drive down costs, new financing methods and new players to the market to deliver on a far more ambitious scale.
Mr Brian Binley (Northampton South) (Con): On innovation, the Minister will respect the fact that coal remains a vital part of our energy requirement for the future. When the Prime Minister was Leader of the Opposition, he promised to create four carbon capture and storage-equipped power plants. Will the Minister give us a quick update on progress, and perhaps a timetable for that, because it plays a major part in the objectives he wishes to reach?
Gregory Barker: My hon. Friend is an expert in this field. He is chair of the all-party group on clean coal, so I speak with respect for his expertise. He is right to say that the coalition Government are committed to carbon capture and storage, which will be a major plank in our efforts to decarbonise our energy supply by 2030; we are committed to the generation of 5 GW of CCS by 2020. We see the potential of CCS, not just for our domestic use and as part of our plan to decarbonise the economy, but as a huge potential export industry for the UK in which we can not only capture new markets for British jobs, but help the world in striving to decarbonise the global economy.
Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con):
My hon. Friend talks about game changers, so may I recommend another important one, which will cost him not a penny? We could move our clocks forward by one
hour to take advantage of the last bit of energy that we have in this world-the sun. It seems completely wrong that our working day is out of alignment with that free energy source. I am happy to provide him with a copy of a study showing the benefits, which would include Scotland too.
Gregory Barker: That is a very interesting point. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) will be introducing a private Member's Bill to that effect, in order to test the opinion of the House on this matter. I do not believe that that subject was covered in the coalition agreement, so I am sorry but I cannot give any commitment on it.
The Government want to end short-term, stop-start schemes. We need a bold long-term approach that will deliver certainty and stability, and will unlock private capital and trigger green investment right across the economy. We must give businesses the confidence to invest, not just in the infrastructure of our buildings, but in developing new skills and training programmes in order to help create the thousands of new jobs that could follow. These would be jobs that could provide decent salaries to support families and build careers of which people could be proud. We must empower British business, not burden it. We must use smart legislation to incentivise the wealth creators and the innovators. Local firms and enterprising local communities must be encouraged to be part of the new solution.
Mary Creagh: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way to me for a second time. On his point about innovation and local firms, may I say that Logicor Ltd, a firm in my constituency, has developed a plug that automatically turns off after a set period of time? When people iron for three quarters of an hour or an hour-or, in my case, five minutes-the plug will then automatically turn off, so there is no danger of someone forgetting about the iron, leaving it on and potentially setting their house on fire. Such appliances have huge potential to make energy and financial savings for homes, be it through turning off the light on someone's microwave or the light on their dishwasher-those devices also use energy. Small companies face the problem of obtaining certification through the carbon emissions reduction target-CERT-scheme and huge issues relating to cash flow, because if they are going to manufacture in China, they have to save, pay the bills up front and then get the money back. How does the Minister propose to provide real help on this? Will he work with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that small companies such as Logicor Ltd can be given the financial support to deliver these energy-efficient products to the nation?
That is an excellent subject for an Adjournment debate, but perhaps we have just had it. I entirely accept the hon. Lady's point, but ultimately the
private sector is the best engine of ingenuity and growth, and it is not the role of Government to pick winners such as that company and give them special treatment. However, I agree that there is a role for Government in creating an enabling, encouraging and supportive framework for enterprise. I can assure her that increased cross-cutting work has been taking place across Government, involving colleagues from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Treasury and the Department for Education, to ensure that the right frameworks and the appropriate support are in place.
I shall now draw the House back to my speech. What needs to change? As a first step, I am announcing today my intention not only to extend CERT, but to refocus it radically. It obliges energy companies to carry out energy-efficiency measures in people's homes and it has historically involved a range of other things too. CERT will be extended until the end of 2012, but the original scheme has not been without criticism, much of it justified. So CERT will be refocused on those most cost-effective measures that can make a real difference to the energy efficiency of our constituents' homes, the most obvious being insulation.
Over the new extension period we will require the big energy companies to deliver far more insulation than originally planned, and the new target on lagging lofts alone will be the equivalent to covering Wembley football pitch more than 35,000 times. The new extension of CERT will work in tandem with the roll-out of our pioneering green deal. In order to bring greater focus to the project, I will insist that more than two thirds of this new carbon target must be delivered through approved, professionally installed loft, cavity wall and solid wall insulation. We will act to stamp out the mistakes of the past. We will introduce a complete ban on the subsidy of compact fluorescent lighting, thereby ending the farce of people having cupboards full of light bulbs which save no energy at all. We will go further. We are actively talking to industry about similar restrictions on other low-value gadgets and appliances. There will be no short cuts or get-outs for the big six under this Government.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I welcome the Minister to his responsibilities. On low-energy light bulbs, he is right to criticise aspects of the CERT scheme, but one promising new development was the inclusion of the replacement of halogen lights, which are extremely energy-inefficient, with new, more efficient forms of technology. I declare an interest, because two companies in my constituency promote alternatives to halogen lighting.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that some very exciting developments are taking place in lighting, not the least of which will be light-emitting diode-LED-technology in the longer term. However, we must be brutal and realistic in the use of CERT; we must opt for the most effective, most value-for-money carbon abatement schemes. That means opting for loft insulation, because any exercise that one chooses to undertake shows that key insulation delivered to our constituents' homes offers the best value for money and the best use in terms of carbon abatement. We have to be far more focused on that. I checked how many light bulbs had been distributed as a result of the previous
CERT scheme and I found that the answer was a phenomenal number. This begs the old question of how many light bulbs it takes to change a Labour Government-the answer turned out to be 262 million.
Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): A vast number of light bulbs were sent out, but does the Minister deny that that was an appropriate action to take at a time when the low-energy light bulbs on the supermarket shelves were far more expensive than ordinary light bulbs and consumers were very resistant to change? We encountered all forms of resistance but, despite that, by sending those low-energy light bulbs out we got them into people's homes, which saved people money and saved energy and carbon emissions.
Gregory Barker: The right hon. Lady is right and, of course, this is not a black and white issue. However, the bottom line is that if one has a finite pot of money to spend, light bulbs do not represent the most efficient way to save energy or carbon. As she knows, the most efficient way of doing that is to insulate, particularly given that we need to do so much more for the fuel-poor and there is so much more that we need to do overall. We must be focused, given the finite pot of money available. I do, however, take her point.
Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): I welcome the Minister to the Government. I was delighted by his announcement the CERT scheme will be extended and will concentrate on insulation, but I am sure that he is aware that the National Insulation Association has expressed concern that it is so heavily dependent on the CERT scheme that unless the scheme is extended very soon, its members could well run out of work over the summer. The NIA has asked for the regulations to be passed before the start of the summer recess, so I hope that the Minister will be able to lay these regulations before Parliament before then.
Gregory Barker: Obviously my announcement is effective today. We hope to lay the regulations before Parliament before we rise for the summer, because I am fully aware that there has been uncertainty in the market, and that is what we aim to eliminate.
Mr MacNeil: Usually, house construction is a great battle between insulation, as the Minister has mentioned, and ventilation. The part of the world that I come from suffers from having to have the same ventilation standards as an urban area in Kent; the rural west coast of the Outer Hebrides certainly does not need the same amount of ventilation as might perhaps be needed in Kent. However, we are stuck with that and the result-I am sure that the situation is the same in other places in the country-is that once the completion certificate is achieved and received, the house builder goes round with a tube of mastic or silicon and blocks off the vents that have been placed unnecessarily. Perhaps ventilation could be seen as part of the argument for energy efficiency, too.
Gregory Barker: That is a very good point. I think that my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government would have direct ministerial responsibility for that point, but it is worth while, and if the hon. Gentleman would care to write to me about it I would be happy to take it up.
We will go further. We are also talking to industry about similar restrictions on other low-value gadgets and appliances. All these new measures are specifically designed to do more for the fuel-poor, because we fully recognise that fuel poverty is a growing challenge, with the number of households in fuel poverty having risen every year since 2004, to 4.6 million households in England alone in 2009. Given that legacy of rising fuel poverty, we are creating a new CERT category of those who have the greatest need, in addition to the priority group of vulnerable households, which will already account for at least 40% of the total CERT extension measures. Pensioners, people with children and the disabled will form a super-priority group on whom at least 15% of the new programme must be targeted. That means that more than £400 million will be focused over the next 18 months on the poorest and most vulnerable.
Barry Gardiner: Would the Minister be good enough to clarify whether, when he says families with children, he means all families with children or whether he is talking about families that are in receipt of working families tax credit and so on? Is it targeted specifically at the poor or will it include all families with children?
Gregory Barker: It is targeted at all people with children-that is, at all households where there are young children and where income is low. I would be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with further details. We will need to bring these measures to the House, and perhaps we could debate that point then.
Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman intend to provide any additional facilities for ensuring that the extra categories that he has mentioned that will be a part of CERT can be identified by those energy companies that are required to identify them to and take action, or is the 15% target that he has suggested an approximation based on what the energy companies actually do?
Gregory Barker: The hon. Gentleman will know that data sharing is a very difficult issue, to which there is no easy ready answer. I do not underestimate it-any attempt to focus in such a way is in some way problematic, given the sometimes limited tools that we have and the restrictions on sharing data. We are considering that project in the Department, because we realise that data sharing poses real challenges. All I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that we will use our best endeavours and, if he has interesting and innovative ideas on how we can make it effective, we will try to frame them in the regulations that we will table before the House rises. I fully take his point on board; data sharing to ensure that we target the most vulnerable is a challenge.
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