HC Deb 01 December 1993 vol 233 cc1026-8
5. Mr. David Shaw

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what assistance his Department is giving towards the introduction of energy conservation in domestic households.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. John Selwyn Gummer)

I am delighted that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was able to announce yesterday an extra £35 million a year for the home energy efficiency scheme, which will bring the total amount provided through similar organisations to more than £70 million.

Mr. Shaw

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he confirm that the Government's energy efficiency and conservation schemes have been better than those of any previous Government and that the current one is the best ever? Will he confirm that some 500,000 homes are now eligible to receive benefits under the scheme and that that is good news for large numbers of pensioners and disabled people and for some 1,500 people who will find jobs as a result?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend is right to praise the Government's record. Perhaps through a slip of the tongue he said that 500,000 homes were eligible. In fact, 500,000 homes will have the work completed in any one year. About 4 million homes will be eligible. The scheme will mean that any pensioner who has concerns about insulation will be able to seek support. It is a remarkable achievement and it bears considerable advantage over any achievement of any previous Government.

Dr. Lynne Jones

As the Secretary of State has confirmed, it will take at least 10 years to insulate the 5 million or 6 million homes that require such insulation. Has he done any work to estimate the length of time that it would take to bring homes up to the standard of heating and insulation that obtains in countries such as Sweden and Canada, which do not have the large number of excess deaths of elderly people in winter?

Mr. Gummer

I am surprised that the hon. Lady asks that question, as we are spending in real terms 17 times what the Labour Government spent in its last year. She should not try to mix the figures. She might also try to remember that there is a distinction between homes that are eligible and homes that need action. Obviously, many pensioners' homes have already had insulation work done to them or are already suitably insulated. It would be a great pleasure for the people of Britain if occasionally the hon. Lady cheered when things were done well instead of constantly whingeing on.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

My right hon. Friend will have received the report of the Environment Select Committee on energy conservation published on Friday. We look forward to a response from the Government in due course. In the meantime, I welcome the doubling of the home energy efficiency scheme yesterday and the extension of its scope and, before that, the abolition of the client contribution. That was a terrific achievement. Does he agree, however, that the complacency of many better-off people and their failure to respond to market signals and the national commitment to the environment are a disgrace? Would we not be better educating them into improving their own performance?

Mr. Gummer

I must point out to my hon. Friend that the energy saving campaign that we have just introduced has been one of the most successful Government campaigns ever. It is one of the top 20 in recall factors, thereby showing itself to be a very effective advertising campaign to do precisely what my hon. Friend says. I hope that my hon. Friend will also agree that those parties represented here—particularly the Liberals, who always talk about taxation to deal with the overuse of energy—should stop being hypocritical and support the tax system, as it will reduce the overuse of energy while giving proper support to those who cannot afford it.

Mr. Chris Smith

The additional resources announced yesterday for the home energy efficiency scheme are of course welcome, but does the Secretary of State not realise that the Chancellor is devoting less than 1 per cent. of Exchequer revenue from VAT on fuel to the addition that was announced? Does the Secretary of State not realise that the HEES is very limited in the help that it gives? For example, it does nothing about cavity wall insulation. Moreover, at the same time as he trumpets that achievement, he has cut the green house programme by £45 million in the past year. And while we are at it, why do the Government not start by putting their own house in order? Is he aware that in the past year the Department of Trade and Industry increased its energy use by 24 per cent. and the Cabinet Office by 10 per cent?

Mr. Gummer

I think that it would have been more accurate if the hon. Gentleman had read out the whole list. He would then have seen that we are well on course for a 15 per cent. reduction overall and that green Ministers in each Department are committed to that—[interruption.] The sad thing about Labour Members is that they are only interested in green matters when they think that they can win a vote or two. They are not prepared to pay the cost. The hon. Gentleman is in no position to talk about the amount of money that has been spent on energy efficiency when, as I mentioned, we have spent 17 times as much as the Labour Government did. The Chancellor is spending a very high proportion of the intake from VAT on helping those pensioners and others particularly affected by the cost of the scheme. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman on social security, said recently that the Government should add to pensions to take account of VAT on fuel and that the Labour party could do it with an extra 50p on pensions.

That is precisely what we have done, and the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) should have the courtesy to thank us for it.