HC Deb 25 July 1979 vol 971 cc575-7
2. Mr. Stallard

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied that retirement pensioners can effectively make use of his Department's homes insulation scheme.

22. Mr. Foulkes

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has any plans to introduce a special scheme for the elderly under the Homes Insulation Act.

The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. John Stanley)

We are giving consideration to the particular position of pensioners in the light of the results of the operation of the first scheme last winter.

Mr. Stallard

Does the Minister recall yesterday's exchanges at Question Time about the ever-present and increasing risk of hypothermia faced by thousands of pensioners in the forthcoming winter because of the expected explosion of heating and fuel costs? Does he agree that there is an unanswerable case for giving pensioners as much protection as possible from these risks? If he does, will he consider recommending that the grant for insulation be increased to 100 per cent. for pensioners' homes?

Mr. Stanley

I read the exchanges in the House yesterday. The hon. Member will be aware that the flexibility in the existing legislation arises from amendments that were tabled in Committee by my hon. Friends the Members for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) and Hove (Mr. Sainsbury). The average rate of grant that is being paid is about £43 and the maximum available is £50 so that at present those on low incomes do not seem to be adversely affected.

Mr. Foulkes

Is the Minister aware of the great dismay among pensioners at the effect of the Budget and the escalating cost of fuel? Will he ensure that the Government make two announcements before the Summer Recess? First, will he ensure that there is an extension of the electricity discount scheme, to cover all fuel? Second, will he make a speedy announcement about a home insulation scheme for the elderly? Will he consider his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) and myself and make an announcement before Parliament goes into recess?

Mr. Stanley

We are considering the position of pensioners and the electricity discount scheme. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the latter is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. I can tell the House that we are concerned about the low rate of take-up of the existing home insulation scheme last winter. We shall shortly be launching a fresh publicity scheme to try to produce a significant increase in the rate of take-up of the existing scheme.

Mr. Shersby

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that local authorities are making the greatest possible use of the home insulation scheme for homes that they own, as distinct from homes in the private sector? Will he urge local authorities to do everything possible to ensure that homes occupied by pensioners are properly insulated?

Mr. Stanley

In the previous financial year there was a significant under-spend in the local authority element of the scheme as well as in the private element. We are anxious that local authorities should take up the full expenditure allocation under the scheme. For that reason our existing allocation for this year is completely unchanged. We hope that local authorities will take the maximum advantage of that.

Mr. Park

As those on low incomes and pensioners may have to pay the bill for home insulation before they receive the grant, will that not automatically exclude them from the benefits of the scheme?

Mr. Stanley

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. We are considering whether we can waive that provision for the elderly.