HC Deb 29 January 1990 vol 166 cc4-6
3. Mr. McAvoy

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what further proposals he has to promote the more efficient use of energy.

6. Mr. Cran

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what recent initiatives he has announced to encourage greater energy efficiency.

Mr. Peter Morrison

Powers for the introduction of a new scheme of grants towards the cost of insulation measures in low-income households are contained in the Social Security Bill, which received its Second Reading on 22 January.

Mr. McAvoy

I thank the Minister for that answer. I am well aware of the proposals in the Social Security Bill. Does the Minister accept that those puny measures do no more than to take us back to 1988 in terms of energy efficiency promotion? It is all very well giving us fine words, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is about time that his Department produced a time scale, even if it is only for the measures in the Social Security Bill?

Mr. Morrison

The hon. Gentleman is being a little less than generous. No doubt he will know that some 700,000 households have benefited from insulation projects over the past few years, and it is intended that many more thousands should benefit from the Social Security Bill.

Sir Trevor Skeet

Will the Minister bear it in mind that although there are 23 million vehicles on the roads, the internal combustion engine is only 27 per cent. efficient, and that our conventional power stations are only about 37 per cent. efficient? Will he have a look at that matter and see whether the efficiency of the stations and the vehicles could be improved?

Mr. Morrison

I learn something new from my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) every day. I was not aware of that fact about the internal combustion engine. My hon. Friend is a great expert on all matters connected with power stations. We listen carefully to him and shall pay particular attention to his comments on this question.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I have also made a mistake. I should have called the hon. Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran).

Mr. Cran

Does my right hon. Friend agree, in the light of the statement last week by the chairman-designate of British Petroleum to the effect that the consumption of oil was likely to increase and therefore the price to follow it, that he message is clear for industrial and other users that we must cut our present £40 billion a year energy bill?

Mr. Morrison

I agree with my hon. Friend. I am delighted that the electricity and gas industries, BP through BP Energy and Shell through Emstar, and contract energy management are directing what will be the private sector to the same end that the Government are aiming for through the Energy Efficiency Office.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce

Does the Minister accept that while the increase in the insulation grant, for which many of us have been calling for some years, is welcome, the scale of energy expenditure in the United Kingdom is vast—amounting to £40 billion, as the hon. Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) said—and that our ability to meet the targets, which even the Government claim are achievable, seems to be virtually non-existent? What will the Minister's Department do, in conjunction with other agencies outside the House, to ensure that the savings are achieved?

Mr. Morrison

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the figures. While over the past 10 years GDP has increased by 20 per cent., energy consumption has held level. That is a good set of figures and in that respect we are the best in the Common Market. Because of the large figure of £40 billion spend, to which the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) and my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) referred, and the 20 per cent. potential savings, we shall continue to promote in every way possible what is in the interests of all householders and every business.

Mr. Benn

Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether his Department was consulted before Mr. Bernard Ingham was offered a university appointment sponsored by British Nuclear Fuels plc? Is it right that a Government press officer should accept that post, particularly in view of Mr. Bernard Ingham's long reputation for opposing journalists who have been critical of the nuclear industry?

Mr. Morrison

With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I do not think that that is a matter for me. I know nothing about that.

Mr. Steen

Will my right hon. Friend congratulate South Western electricity board on its efficient use of its time and skill over the weekend in restoring electricity to many of the villages and towns throughout the south-west? Is he aware that many elderly people in my constituency, particularly along the coastline of Devon, are still without electric light, heating and telephone communications? Will my right hon. Friend consider bringing in private contractors in the electricity industry to help the electricity board to speed up the rate at which it can reconnect people who still have no electricity supply?

Mr. Morrison

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the South Western electricity board, as I am sure that all hon. Members would, on its tremendous efforts to restore electricity supplies.

On my hon. Friend's point about whether the electricity board's efforts can be augmented, I am sure that all the possibilities are being considered to ensure that electricity can be restored as soon as possible. Obviously, that will take time in the more distant communities. I am advised that it may take even until Thursday or Friday in some cases, but everything will be done to reconnect supplies as soon as possible.

Mr. Dobson

The Minister has told us about his airy-fairy plans for energy efficiency in the future, but he should consider what is happening now. With regard to the community insulation programme, draughtproofing jobs completed last year fell by 30,000 and loft insulations fell by about two thirds. In London and the south-east alone, the number of operatives involved has fallen from 1,100 to 150. Surely the Minister should he doing something now.

Mr. Morrison

I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would notice—certainly his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) has noticed—that we are doing something, and that was mentioned on Second Reading of the Social Security Bill

Mr. Dobson

That is just talk in the House. Do something.

Mr. Morrison

Of course, we are. If the hon. Gentleman were to look carefully at the reasons behind the figures that he gave, he would realise that the number of long-term unemployed has fallen substantially. That means that there are fewer people to do the job under the old programme. That is why we are introducing a new programme that will help tens of thousands of low-income households.