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Historically, energy efficiency has not been Britain's No. 1 priority, with its temperate climate and plentiful supplies of fuel, whether wood, coal, gas or oil. Therefore, for far too long we have put up with, and built too
many, draughty houses. As the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) said in his thoughtful contribution, we have to change the way in which we build houses. Times have changed and Britain has to change, too. Energy prices have increased massively, and now we have a choice: we can either invest in a low-carbon economy using renewable sources of energy, or wait for the gas to run out. Neither option is cheap, although the latter also comes at the price of creating man-made, irreversible climate change. In the UK, 13% of our greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the way in which we heat our homes, but the inevitable increasing cost of fuel bills has, and will continue to, put great strains on the incomes of the poorest households.
People fully understand the urgency of the matter, and in meetings in my constituency I have spoken to people in their 80s and to children as young as five about the importance of ensuring that we insulate our homes and address fuel poverty. I suspect that the passion that I have developed for the issue has come from listening and learning from the people whom I represent, and today we have heard a number of passionate and inspirational maiden speeches from people who clearly have a great love for their constituencies.
We heard from the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), who, after congratulating Lord Jim Knight on his ennoblement, spoke of the great beauty of his constituency. He also told us of his six ancestors who have been Members. It seems that one of them spoke only once in 32 years, and we hope that the hon. Gentleman does not follow in that tradition.
The hon. Member for South Ribble (Lorraine Fullbrook) is the first woman to represent her area, and she paid tribute to her predecessor, David Borrow, and in particular his work in relation to HIV sufferers. We learned that South Ribble is the home of Chicago town pizzas, as well as Leyland and some large bird sanctuaries, and I have no doubt that she will be a very effective voice for South Ribble in Westminster.
We heard also from the hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt), who eschewed tradition and decided to be controversial by claiming that her constituency was the most beautiful in Britain. She also took on the National Grid and certainly seems to have a strong campaigning spirit and steel.
Talking of strong campaigning spirit and steel, I should note that the hon. Member for Corby (Ms Bagshawe) also made it clear that, although she is in favour of nuclear power and onshore wind, she is not in favour of them in her constituency. As my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) said, Government Front Benchers could consider putting some large solar panels in Corby instead.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) explained that, although he was a Unionist, he could in some circumstances feel comfortable talking about green politics. He described his beautiful constituency and reminded me of many visits that I and my family have taken to that extraordinary area. I was reminded, in particular, of Castle Ward, which also made me think of the coalition. Castle Ward is a very odd building, because one half is classic Georgian and the other Strawberry Hill gothic. It is up to Members to decide which bit represents which political party. Anyway, one particular marriage at Castle Ward was doomed,
and the woman went back to Scotland after only a few months, so perhaps there is a lesson to be learned there.
We heard also from Members who have a large amount of experience, and their contributions were profound and very important. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli spoke of the cuts in funding to the Welsh Assembly and the impact that they might have on the Welsh boiler scrappage scheme and the Warm Front scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) spoke about the feed-in tariff threshold and called for it to apply to 3 kW appliances.
We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), who spoke passionately about how climate change had become his political priority. He strongly urged the Government to reduce VAT on energy-efficiency measures. I understand that the number of interventions during the speech made by the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) is a record. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) made a knowledgeable contribution about the power station in his constituency and the bid for carbon capture and storage. He asked the Minister to make a decision about when the competition was going to happen.
The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) was burnishing his pro-nuclear and anti-onshore-wind credentials; I suspect that he will make a friend of the hon. Member for Corby. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) made a plea for energy-efficient windows, while the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) promoted ground source heat pumps, which are made in her constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) asked the Chancellor to think again, as we all do. Meanwhile, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) made a wide-ranging and well informed speech, calling particularly for mandatory minimum standards of insulation. Her contribution will be taken seriously beyond the House.
Much of what the previous Government did on energy efficiency has had broad support from this place, and I am proud of the progress that we made. It began particularly with the Climate Change Act 2008, which, ironically, will be seen as one of Labour's greatest achievements only if the coalition Government take seriously the attendant low-carbon transition plans and the carbon budget. Lord Turner, the Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, said on the "Today" programme this morning, "The last Government set out a series of policies. As long as we drive those through, we will make a difference." I was reassured to hear from one with as profound an understanding as my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) that the CCC's report recognises the Government's achievements.
It is important that we cut our household-sector emissions. That is an important part of the plan; we expect to cut them by 29%. In furtherance of that goal, we insulated 5 million homes and, building on that, went on to introduce the carbon emissions reduction target, or CERT. The Government's reconfirmation of the decision to extend CERT to December 2012 is greatly to be welcomed; I am grateful to have heard that from the Minister in his opening speech.
The next question is about the community energy saving programme, or CESP, which focused on household energy efficiency in poor areas and worked on a house-by-house, street-by-street basis. A precursor to the programme was established in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon), who also made a maiden speech today. It was called warm zone in her area and she rightly told us of the great benefits to those in fuel poverty in her constituency.
There is also the decent homes programme, which has made flats in housing estates in constituencies such as mine warm, decent and dry. I am proud that the standard assessment procedure, or SAP, ratings have increased in the private and social rented sectors since 1997, under the Labour Government; the social rented sector improved more and faster.
Another priority under Labour was to fight fuel poverty. The hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) asked why fuel poverty went up under a Labour Government. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) explained that it was because of an unprecedented rise in fuel prices. Nevertheless, without Government measures, the number of fuel-poor households would have been 400,000 to 800,000 more in England in 2008.
What about Warm Front? That flagship policy of ours gave energy-efficiency grants to the most vulnerable households. We Labour Members are very concerned about the future of the policy and the priority that the coalition will give to those in fuel poverty as a whole. The Minister said in his opening remarks that his new policies are game changers and innovations. If they are, and if they work, we will support them. If the Government keep to our carbon reduction plans and time is not wasted, if their strategy is coherent and effective and if they meet the needs of the poor, they will have our support. However, if, as we fear, they are prepared to sacrifice all for the sake of short-term savings, ignoring the long-term need, they will have a fight on their hands.
We greatly welcome the extension of CERT, but does the coalition believe that that is the game changer that will really help the fuel-poor? How many in fuel poverty do the Government expect will be helped as a result of the extension of CERT? Will the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), clarify whether the super-priority group of 15% is in addition to the 40% priority group or contained within it? In January, the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), said that grant programmes were to be maintained. That is good news, perhaps, because Warm Front is a grant programme. Does this mean that the Government are thinking again about Warm Front? Will they ensure that it helps the fuel-poor, given that CERT alone may not be enough?
I have gabbled on-I appreciate that I have spoken very fast-and I am afraid that I have another three pages to go, but I promise to finish soon. It is odd that only those of us who are speaking from the Dispatch Box are limited as to the amount of time that we have. Ministers have an extremely difficult job, but if they act within the parameters that we have set out in helping the fuel poor and truly cutting carbon emissions, they will certainly have our support; otherwise, they will not.
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Charles Hendry): Let me begin by warmly welcoming the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) to the Dispatch Box. In the past, as a Parliamentary Private Secretary, she has been forced merely to chunter occasionally from the sidelines, and it is wonderful to hear her soothing, mellifluous tones. She probably did not expect that in her first speech from the Dispatch Box she would be talking about the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), doing his hoovering in the buff-a thought that is as unpleasant as the activity is potentially dangerous. We congratulate her on her promotion and wish her well in her new role.
This excellent debate has shown the quality of Members in this House and their understanding of a wide range of energy-efficiency issues, which occasionally spread into other areas of energy policy. We have also heard some outstandingly good maiden speeches, and I congratulate all hon. Members who have made those contributions today. I endorse what the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury said in hoping that it will not be 32 years until my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) speaks here again. He, too, talked about nudity; I thought that it might become a recurring theme, and was relieved that it did not. The House will welcome his commitment to being a free-thinking advocate of the interests of South Dorset, although the Whips blanched when he said that. We look forward to many future contributions from him.
The hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) expressed concern about jobs in North Tyneside. We now have a real opportunity to develop new jobs in the marine and offshore wind sectors, and I want to work together with local authority representatives to try to make the strongest case for developing green jobs in this country. She talked about the mining industry; I want her to be in no doubt that this Government are determined to be a friend of the mining industry. I want to see a renaissance of mining in Britain, and I want British miners to deliver the coal for new clean-coal facilities so that we are less reliant in the future on imported coal.
The hon. Lady referred to energy efficiency in terms of work that she had done in her local council. It is vital that we involve local councils in this work-a point that was made very effectively by the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson). As he said, we have to unlock the potential that exists. We must capitalise and build on councils' expertise as social landlords if we are to ensure that we achieve maximum energy-efficiency potential across the housing stock.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Lorraine Fullbrook) made an impassioned maiden speech in which she talked about companies in her constituency which can contribute towards reducing carbon emissions. She described the problems that she had experienced with Warm Front. Many of us raised similar issues during the last Parliament, and the Government, to their credit, addressed many of them. We now have to monitor carefully how Warm Front works and moves forward to ensure that it is delivering help in the most effective way.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made a thoughtful and measured speech. I hope to visit Northern Ireland soon to look at the marine current turbines project in Strangford lough. He made the telling point that targets must have a purpose. We must raise our ambitions, and targets are an important way to achieve that, but we must be certain that those targets are deliverable and achievable.
The hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt) raised a whole range of issues, particularly about National Grid's plans for new infrastructure across the Somerset levels. National Grid clearly has a legal obligation to show that it is considering the alternatives. The hon. Lady can truly expect that we will take into account her concerns. We know that in making these decisions we have to carry people with us, because those decisions must have public support if they are to be wholly endorsed.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) made, although it was not her maiden speech, what I believe was her first speech on her own subject. I hope that we will hear from her on a regular basis. I want her to harry the Government and chase us to do better. I want her constantly to say, "Let's raise our aspirations to do the best we can". We are most determined to be the greenest Government there has ever been, but I want to know that we will be truly challenged by people who always want to raise the bar higher. We have to be objective and realistic about what we can achieve, but we should be absolutely clear that we welcome such contributions, and we encourage the hon. Lady in that respect.
I have the greatest personal respect for the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), and I know her long-standing personal commitment to this subject. However, in the past we have seen a plethora of schemes, consultations, tests, experiments and pilot projects. The question should not be how many schemes were introduced but what they delivered.
When we look back over the past few years, of course we recognise things that have been done well, but fuel poverty doubled from its base of 2 million households in 2004 to 4 million in 2007, and it is probably at 5 million now. The energy efficiency of our homes is still among the worst in Europe. When there was an opportunity to welcome the green deal into the Energy Act 2010, the then Government voted it down. There was no Government leadership in saying, "We can show the way forward by requiring all Departments to reduce their carbon emissions by 10% in a year." Perhaps one of the most telling indicators of all is that in five years, we did not have a single debate on energy efficiency in the Government's name. Our concern is not the intent, good will and hopes that the right hon. Lady had, but whether the previous Government had the magnitude of ambition that the issue requires.
Now we are talking not about a few thousand homes being made energy-efficient but about 14 million homes across the country that are currently poorly insulated and need to be brought up to the right level. That is not tinkering, it is a fundamental rethink of the approach that we take. As the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle, said, that is a step-change in the Government's ambition.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) made an extremely thoughtful and measured speech. He talked about the lack of skills, a point that the hon.
Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) took up. I can confirm to the hon. Member for Cheltenham that our hon. Friends in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are considering whether colleges should be able to self-accredit and whether we can deliver the change that he mentioned.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the complex nature of the code for sustainable homes, and I agree with him that simplicity should be an important part of our approach. We want to drive that through, because if we are to carry people with us, they have to understand what is being asked of them. He talked also about smart metering, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood). That will be critical not just to how we deliver energy efficiency but to how we deal with fuel poverty. We need to enable people to access the cheapest tariffs, and as in Northern Ireland, enable those on prepayment meters to have cheaper tariffs than others. The goal is not just smart metering but the prize of a smart grid, so that we can manage demand much more effectively and avoid the need to build new power stations by making optimum use of what we have.
I hope that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) is satisfied by the offer that my ministerial colleague made to meet her to talk about her concerns in her constituency. We are very keen to understand the issue of thresholds and how we can take the most effective approach possible.
The hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) and the former Minister, the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford, spoke about how we could incentivise private landlords to improve their energy efficiency. We are absolutely determined to secure that through the green deal. There will be other policies on the matter as well, but we believe that the green deal provides an opportunity for good landlords to take the action necessary to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. It gets around the problem of their paying for an improvement from which they will personally get no benefit, because the funding mechanism addresses that. We hope that it
can make a real change to disincentivisation, but we recognise that if it does not, further regulations may be necessary.
My hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Ms Bagshawe) talked about the need for transparency and many other matters. We understand the concerns that she and others have, and we will consider them further.
I have been able to respond to many of the issues raised in the debate. The Government are driving forward a clear agenda for change, and I am pleased that we have the good will and support of the House in taking it forward. I again commend colleagues who have made their maiden speeches, and I reassure those whose points have not been responded to that we will write to them with a full response. This has been an outstanding debate on a key issue, and I am very pleased that we have had the chance to have it so early in the Parliament.
Mr Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. This afternoon, in the Welsh Grand Committee, the Government suffered their first defeat of this Parliament. By 21 votes to seven, the proposition that the Committee had considered the matter of the Government's legislative programme and the Budget statement as they relate to Wales was rejected. In the light of that, will you use your good offices to ensure that another meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee takes place in order to consider these issues?
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