§ 7. Mr. Harvey
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what further measures he plans on energy conservation.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry)
Our further measures to encourage energy efficiency are clearly set out in the United Kingdom's climate change programme, in our strategy for sustainable development launched recently by the Prime Minister, and in our response to the Environment Select Committee's report on energy efficiency.
§ Mr. Harvey
Can the Minister reassure the House that the decision by the Government and their hon. and right hon. Friends on the Conservative Benches to table more than 200 amendments and new clauses to the Energy Conservation Bill has nothing to do with the desire for the amount of electricity consumed to be maximised before the sale of the remaining 40 per cent. Government stake in the two national power companies? Is there not a direct contradiction between those two Government policies—energy conservation on the one hand and maximising the revenue from those sales on the other?
§ Mr. Baldry
Only a Liberal Member of Parliament could dream up such a fantasy. The straightforward fact is that the Bill would impose a statutory duty to compel every local authority to inspect and audit every home in the country, not only their own housing stock, and we believe that that would impose an unnecessary extra regulatory burden on local authorities and unnecessary extra costs on taxpayers.
§ Dr. Twinn
Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Midland Electricity on its generous gift of £500,000 to Neighbourhood Energy Action in support of its excellent work, supported by the Government, to insulate low-income homes? Will he take the opportunity to encourage other British electricity companies and others in the energy field to give money to NEA?
§ Mr. Baldry
I fully support everything that my hon. Friend says. Neighbourhood Energy Action does some excellent work, especially the work that it does with the home energy efficiency scheme. That scheme has been nearly doubled to £75 million. It provides grants to improve the energy efficiency of low-income households and will enable 400,000 homes to be treated in 1994–95. That is an indication of the support that the Government give to energy efficiency.
§ Mr. Cecil A. Walker
Can the Minister explain why he is stopping the application of the Energy Conservation Bill to Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Baldry
That, I suspect, is one of the matters that the House will wish to consider and debate at some length on Friday.
§ Mr. Batiste
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the primary purposes and benefits of energy conservation is that it reduces the need for energy production and the environmental damage caused by it, especially by such means as opencast mining? As his contribution to that process, how soon will he publish the revised guidelines for MPG3?
§ Mr. Chris Smith
On this Friday's Energy Conservation Bill, am I right to assume from the Minister's answer to the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) that the Government are opposed to that measure? Is that why more than 200 amendments have been tabled in an apparently deliberate attempt to sink the Bill through lack of time? Is that why the Government are attempting to change the fundamental principle of the Bill from placing a duty on local authorities to allowing a permission for local authorities, thereby undermining the entire purpose and benefit of the Bill? If the Government engineer the collapse of that measure, will not they be left without a shred of credibility on energy conservation?
§ Mr. Baldry
I made clear the Government's approach to the Bill on Second Reading. It is ludicrous for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that, in some way, the Bill is a touchstone of the Government's attitude to energy efficiency. Our commitment to energy efficiency is clear and constant. The budget of the Energy Efficiency Office has been increased to more than £100 million this year, which represents an increase of nearly 50 per cent. on last year and a 17-fold increase in real terms since 1979. We have a clear commitment to energy efficiency, but we do not believe in imposing unnecessary regulatory burdens on local authorities, which will not necessarily bring further benefit to energy efficiency.