HC Deb 14 June 1978 vol 951 cc987-8
7. Mr. Beith

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to publish advice to local authorities from the working party which is considering remedial measures to deal with the problems of all-electric council houses.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

The work on this subject is nearing completion and a domestic energy note will be published as soon as possible.

Mr. Beith

I thank the Minister for that reply and for his interest in this matter. Does he recognise how important it is to give tenants on estates which have had real problems an alternative to electricity as a heating fuel? Will he try to ensure that local authorities get encouragement and help to do just that?

Mr. Armstrong

I am certainly aware of the seriousness of the problem. The working party is considering the whole range of options, choice of fuel and so on related to the high cost, which is one of the causes of the serious position of many tenants now, particularly those in houses centrally heated by electricity.

Mrs. Bain

May we expect to have legislation brought forward on this matter before the winter? As the Minister is aware, the problem of condensation is much higher during the autumn and winter months, and houses with electric central heating seem to be more deeply affected than houses with other forms of central heating. Will the Minister pay special attention to the problems of houses which have electric ceiling heating? Because of the high cost involved, many tenants cannot afford to meet the bills and find themselves living in intolerable circumstances.

Mr. Armstrong

The hon. Lady has highlighted a growing problem with regard to ceiling heating. Legislation is not required. The working party hopes to publish its advice and proposals before the winter.

Mr. Ashton

Is my hon. Friend aware that when council houses were first built they had chimneys and many had coinin-the-slot electricity meters? There seemed then to be far fewer cases of hypothermia and cut-offs. Would it be asking too much to return to the original good idea of burning coal in view of the stocks that we have and to ask the Electricity Council to put in more slot meters?

Mr. Armstrong

As one who comes from the Durham coalfield, I have considerable sympathy with what my hon. Friend said. That point has been made to the working party. The heating system in public sector houses is a matter for local authorities, but we want to give as much choice as possible. That matter will be considered when we issue advice.

Mr. Rossi

Does the Minister agree that ceiling heating was the consequence of cost yardsticks? The capital cost of installing ceiling heating was much lower than for other kinds of heating. Therefore, the tenants, in effect, through the exaggerated bills that they are now having to pay, are subsidising those false capital economies. Do the Government recognise that they have a responsibility to help tenants in those instances?

Mr. Armstrong

We share responsibility with local authorities on all housing matters, and we would not try to run away from it. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I should not blame the yardstick. The yardstick is of long practice. We are anxious to maintain standards. That is important. The Green Paper indicated that we are also considering whether we can disengage from the detailed financial control that the yardstick envisaged. The difficulty was that installation was comparatively cheap. But we constantly remind authorities that running costs are even more important than the original costs of installation.