HC Deb 20 January 1995 vol 252 cc911-74

Order for Second Reading read.

9.34 am
Mrs. Diana Maddock (Christchurch)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It was a surprise when I came top of the ballot for private Members' Bills this year. It was only the second time that I had put my name in and I have never prayed so hard to lose a ballot as I did last year. I was even more surprised to come top because a short time before I had drawn the No. 1 question at Prime Minister's Question Time—it was when the national lottery had just got off the ground and everyone was asking me to buy their lottery tickets for them. It is no good hon. Members asking me to win money for them—my role in life seems to be to win work rather than money in lotteries.

After I heard the result of the draw, my first thought was the Energy Conservation Bill that my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) introduced last year. I supported it strongly and promised to do so again. When one comes first in the ballot, however, many people come knocking on one's door. Before I had to decide on the Bill, I received 40 or 50 suggestions from individuals and organisations. I considered some, but thought all along that, if there was a chance that I might get meaningful energy conservation legislation through, that would be my choice.

I did not think that the task was that hopeful—we all know what happened to the Energy Conservation Bill last year—and I knew that it would not be easy. Last year, 217 amendments and seven new clauses, some of which were sensible, were proposed, not in Committee but on the Floor of the House; it was quite an extraordinary affair. Given some of the opening comments about how uncontroversial the Bill was, it was even more extraordinary and, in the light of what happened, those comments seem ironic.

Despite what happened last year, support for such measures and the Bill has grown outside the House and the Government are beginning to realise the extent of that support. My choice was encouraged by my postbag. I received more letters from individuals in support of the Energy Conservation Bill than on all other issues put together. From speaking to my constituents about the issue for some months, I realised that there was strong feeling in favour of new measures to encourage energy conservation. I was also influenced by my experience of life as, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I had the opportunity to live in Stockholm, Sweden. The amount of energy that we used in our well-insulated flat there was far less than the amount required in the small house that I had left behind in England, despite the fact that we occasionally experienced temperatures of minus 27 deg C and regularly experienced those well below 0 deg.

I considered other Bills, such as environmental labelling, but after much consideration decided that it was to be the Home Energy Conservation Bill for me. Hon. Members who attended debates on last year's Bill will remember the impressive support that it gained both in the House and among local authorities and organisations of all types outside. Hon. Members will also know that the subject has been debated four times in the past year. I hope that they will forgive me if I repeat arguments, but I intend to concentrate on some of the changes made since last year's Bill and to describe how this Bill fits in with where this country is in the energy debates.

Support for the Bill is increasing. More than 700 elected councils throughout the country, of all political parties, now support it and, during the past fortnight, Bournemouth and Watford have added their support. It is vital that the Bill has the support of local authorities as they will be the main recipients of the new duties under its provisions.

Few other Bills have commanded such wide support among elected councils, but the Bill also has exceptional support among voluntary organisations. Hon. Members will not be surprised that it enjoys the enthusiastic support of environmental campaigners such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, in view of the importance of energy conservation to our environment. Given the Bill's benefits for the "fuel poor", the support of the National Right to Fuel Campaign and the Right to Warmth Campaign is predictable. But it must be almost unprecedented for a Bill to receive backing from organisations as varied as the Institute of Housing, Age Concern, Mencap, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Trades Union Congress as well as community health councils, residential associations, townswomen's guilds and many others.

The Bill has popular support from people across the country of all political persuasions and of none, which is why I am delighted that the Bill's sponsors come from so many different parts of the House. I am particularly grateful for the support of Conservative Members, including the hon. Members for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo), for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), for Keighley (Mr. Waller), and for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body). I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), for his constructive approach so far to the Bill.

I have had terrific support from all hon. Members as I have walked about the House in recent weeks, which has been interesting for me as a new Member. It has come particularly from Opposition Members. I must also thank hon. Members in my own party who are here this morning.

Finally, I pay tribute to hon. Members who have taken up this type of Bill before. The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) first introduced an Energy Conservation Bill and continues to be a strong supporter, for which we are grateful. Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon -Tweed had the difficult task of attempting to take his Energy Conservation Bill through the House last year in the face of strong opposition and opposition tactics.

Essentially, the Bill that I propose this year gives local authorities a duty to survey the energy efficiency of residential properties in their areas and produce reports to enable the Secretary of State to act. That is necessary to correct the current lack of co-ordinated information on home energy efficiency across the country. It is widely felt, particularly by environmentalists and those who work in energy conservation, that that is the main obstacle to a comprehensive national energy conservation strategy. That is why the Association for the Conservation of Energy has called this the most important Bill for energy conservation since the war and why it supports it so strongly, for which I am grateful.

Clause 1 defines an energy conservation authority. We are in the same position as last year as that is not easy to define, given the on-going reorganisation. But it is agreed that the responsibility of being an energy conservation authority should fall on councils that are already responsible as housing authorities.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

Will the hon. Lady clarify the philosophy of her Bill before she goes any further? She has criticised the constructive criticism last year about the Bill presented by the right hon. Member for Berwick-Upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), but in her Bill, has not she learnt lessons from those criticisms, particularly in giving much greater flexibility to energy conservation authorities in applying the Bill's terms?

Mrs. Maddock

The hon. Gentleman's observations are correct. As I go on, I intend to emphasise the changes that we have made.

Clause 1 seeks to define clearly some of the names used in the Bill, which created all sorts of problems last year, particularly the definition of "measures and arrangements". That was not in last year's Bill, but is included this time to emphasise the wide range of possible ways in which local authorities can deal with home energy conservation. However, it is not intended to be all-inclusive.

Clause 2 is the hub of the Bill. It sets out the duties of energy conservation authorities, which are to assess the energy efficiency of their own properties and take reasonable steps—I stress the word "reasonable"— to assess the potential for improvement in energy efficiency of other residential properties in their areas. Specifically, each authority has a duty to produce and publish a strategy report containing the measures that it believes are necessary to achieve energy savings of 30 per cent. from the homes in its area.

Last year's Bill also gave local authorities a duty to state the measures that they thought were necessary to reduce domestic energy use by 10 and 20 per cent. Those additional requirements have been dropped because the Government felt that they would make councils produce three different reports. There is no reason why local authorities cannot prioritise the measures that they recommend. The timetable set by the Secretary of State would almost certainly necessitate that by spreading the required measures over a number of years. It has been debated whether 20 or 30 per cent. should be the target. I chose to begin with 30 per cent. because it is a realistic aim for most councils.

In their climate change document, the Government conclude: Perhaps up to 25 per cent. of current total energy consumption outside the transport sector could be saved through take up of energy efficiency investments with a payback of up to 5 years". Many other countries have much more ambitious targets, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that a 60 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is needed globally in the near future. On that matter, in their White Paper, "This Common Inheritance: The Second Year Report", the Government acknowledge that Using energy efficiently is the quickest and most cost-effective way of reducing CO2 emissions. It has been suggested that setting the same target for all local authorities is unfair, as some have already done a lot of energy conservation work. Surprisingly, the councils that have done the most seem to be the most enthusiastic about the Bill. If local authorities have a real problem making further progress, there is no reason why the Secretary of State cannot be flexible in setting his timetable.

In common with last year's Bill, the councils' reports must contain an assessment of how much carbon dioxide emissions would decrease if the measures were implemented, as well as a statement of the authority's policy for giving priority to the work to be carried out in accommodation occupied by those suffering financial hardship, whom we often describe as the "fuel poor". The report must also be fully costed.

Clause 3 provides that authorities that so wish may include an assessment of the savings in fuel bills that they would expect from their reports' implementation. Some hon. Members will remember that that was a duty rather than a power in last year's Bill. Authorities can also include their estimate of the effect of the measures on nitrogen and sulphur dioxide emissions and the number of jobs that would be created by the reports' implementation. In an ideal world, those would all be done as duties by local authorities. However, I recognise the limited financial resources that we are trying to work with, so to minimise the cost to local authorities, I have conceded on that point.

The detailed list of consultees contained in last year's Bill was considered unnecessary and over-bureaucratic. Although it is highly desirable that parish councils, tenants associations and environmental groups should be consulted about energy conservation reports, I know how much councils already consult one another and, in the interests of progress, I have been persuaded to avoid the danger of over-prescribing how councils produce their reports.

Clause 4 covers the role of the Secretary of State. In England, the responsible Department will be, of course, the Department of the Environment, whereas in Scotland and Wales the respective Secretaries of State will be responsible.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

Has the hon. Lady heard from the Northern Ireland Office whether the Housing Executive will voluntarily meet the standard set in the Bill? I believe that Northern Ireland is not covered by the terms of the Bill.

Mrs. Maddock

I have not heard directly from the Housing Executive, but I appreciate that many hon. Members will be disappointed that, unlike its predecessor, the Bill no longer applies to Northern Ireland. I share that disappointment, but in mitigation, clause 7 at least provides for the possible extension of the Bill to Northern Ireland should any future Government accept that proposal. I would support that.

The duty of the Secretary of State is first to set a date by which all the reports must be sent to him. He will then publish a timetable for progress on those reports.

Clause 6 deals with money and provides for the expenses incurred by local authorities and others in implementing measures according to the Secretary of State's timetable.

In an effort to respond constructively to the criticisms levelled at last year's Bill, substantial parts of it have been changed, but the essential elements remain. Last year's proposals were criticised because there were too many "shalls" and not enough "mays". I hope that we have addressed that problem through the changes that have been made.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Clause 6 makes it clear that no new money will be available. Can the hon. Lady tell us how she expects the Bill's proposals to be financed?

Mrs. Maddock

If the hon. Gentleman will be a little more patient, that should become clearer when I explain how costs will be incurred by local authorities.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

I understand that Northern Ireland could be incorporated within the terms of the Bill—in common with last year's Energy Conservation Bill—at a later stage. I presume that that is due to pressure from the Government and their willingness to accept various provisions. It is interesting to note that although the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland, a Government statement will be made in Committee to the effect that it will be extended to it in order to gain support from hon. Members representing Northern Ireland who have tabled their own relevant Bill. At some stage today, perhaps the Minister will tell us that it is the Government's intention in Committee to extend the worthy Home Energy Conservation Bill to Northern Ireland, which should not be excluded by the proposed new arrangements.

Mrs. Maddock

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and I also hope that we shall hear that commitment from the Minister, if not today, then in Committee.

When discussing how we should deal with local authorities, one might ask why the Secretary of State should prescribe exactly what the local authorities should do. In this case, however, the Secretary of State will be using statistics produced by local authorities, so his direction is necessary.

When the Energy Conservation Bill was discussed last year, a number of hon. Members accused it of creating "thermal thought police" in every local authority, who would have the right of entry into every home to measure heat loss and the right to insist on the installation of double glazing, against the wishes of the owner. Although that image might have been amusing, it was not amusing that hon. Members genuinely considered that a likely result of the Bill. That was not the intention behind that proposed legislation and nor is it the intention in this year's Bill. To make that absolutely clear, we have included clarification in several clauses for the avoidance of doubt, but I shall not bore hon. Members with that now.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

I understand that the changes are designed to make it transparent that the Bill does not confer powers on local authority officers to enforce the measures contained in it. A number of my colleagues on the Conservative Benches will be happier about those changes, because on far too many occasions when it has been left to local officers to interpret what their powers may or may not be, they have gone beyond what was intended even by the House.

Mrs. Maddock

I accept that we must be careful. I was told that the Bill should contain more "mays" than "shalls" because otherwise people just get on with things. I accept that there is a danger if we are not clear about what we want people to do. People can interpret legislation for their own ends, one way or another.

There is no reason to force anyone to have a energy audit carried out on his home because, as has been proved time and again, a local authority does not need to examine every home in order to produce a strategy report. After all, local authorities manage to produce house condition surveys annually without going into every home. Many authorities use sampling methods and general principles, so there is absolutely no reason why authorities should not be able to produce a comprehensive set of proposals to conserve energy in their local homes without the necessity of going into every house.

When the Energy Conservation Bill was proposed last year, a number of local authorities were understandably concerned about the effort that would be required to fulfil their obligations. For that reason two local authorities, Derby city council and Newark and Sherwood district council, were asked to assume that the Bill had become law and that the relevant council committee had asked officers for information on resource and staffing implications of drawing up local conservation plans required by the Bill in their areas. Neither council had any difficulty formulating those plans. They calculated that they could conduct a full energy audit based on a sample of 10 per cent. of homes and produce the required report for less than £50,000. That figure was the cost of implementing last year's proposed Bill, and it was assumed that councils had no existing records or database of the energy efficiency of any of their local homes. That is manifestly untrue.

A number of councils have conducted infra-red surveys of their areas and produced photographs of the hot spots where the heat has escaped. I know that that has been done successfully in Ealing and that a county council attempted to do the same some years ago. Sutton will do exactly that in three weeks' time and exhibit the results to the public, as Ealing did. People will be able to pick out their own home, get an idea of how much heat is escaping and receive advice on what they can do to conserve energy.

With the changes that have been made to create the Home Energy Conservation Bill this year, some councils will face virtually no cost when producing their reports because they already have the required information. As the requirements for a full energy audit have been replaced with a duty merely to assess the energy efficiency of authorities' properties and to take reasonable steps to estimate the potential for improving energy efficiency in other properties, it is unlikely that the Bill's implementation will cost most local authorities even half as much as the Government estimated last year.

The Bill is essential to enable us to have a comprehensive national energy conservation strategy. I accept that, from time to time, the Government have produced a variety of good initiatives with the result that several hundreds of thousands of properties and their owners have been helped. An example of such a scheme is the greenhouse programme, in which I was involved when I was a local councillor. However, last year there were discussions about that, and we were told that it was a demonstration programme and would not go on for ever. Much has been done under the home energy efficiency scheme.

However, the Bill is important because, although we need on-going plans, we need, above all, to co-ordinate our targets, commitments and resources. The Bill and its predecessor, which we discussed last year, were criticised by some hon. Members who said things along the following lines: "It does not put double glazing in a single window or cavity insulation in a single wall." I believe that such a response misses the point completely.

Does a plan for a hospital make a single person well? Does it create a single bed of itself? Of course it does not. No one says that money spent on plans for a hospital is wasted. One needs to decide where the best place is to build the hospital, what one will build it from, how many bed spaces it needs and so on. It is the same with the Home Energy Conservation Bill. The Bill is about gathering necessary information to construct a comprehensive energy conservation strategy, and it lays foundations on which all parties in the House are agreed that we need to build.

The reasons that we need to tackle energy efficiency fully are many. For most of us, greater home energy efficiency means a chance to reduce our gas and electricity bills slightly. That is very welcome. However, for some people it could mean that they will be able to heat their home adequately for the first time.

One of the memories that stays with me over the years, as someone who has been a councillor and now a Member of Parliament, is that of visiting elderly people who must remain huddled in one room all winter because they cannot afford to heat anywhere else. It should not have to happen in the 1990s.

The Government accept that, to protect our environment, energy efficiency is the quickest and most cost-effective way of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect. We have a target, set by the Prime Minister at the 1992 Rio summit, of returning emission of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by the year 2000.

However, 25 per cent. of that reduction was supposed to have been accounted for by the introduction of VAT on domestic fuel. Now that that second stage of tax has been defeated—for which I am thankful—there is a huge hole in the Government's strategy for achieving their target. We must fill that hole very soon because, in March, the United Kingdom will be represented at the Berlin environmental summit, the first summit of the countries that have ratified the Rio climate change convention. A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that we are far short of the reductions necessary to stabilise those emissions.

In addition, investing in energy conservation work is a very efficient way of creating jobs and boosting our economy. The main study carried out in the United Kingdom by the Association for the Conservation of Energy suggests that 500,000 jobs could be created over a period. The net cost per job year is estimated to be about £23,000. Most of the jobs created are relatively low-skilled occupations, and I believe that they would be concentrated in areas where there are both many unemployed people and many poorly insulated homes.

Investing in warmer homes improves people's health. There have been reports about that very recently. Research by the Standing Conference on Public Health shows that people living in colder homes tend to have poorer health, as a result of the cold itself and the damp that it causes. It is thought that there are potential savings of billions of pounds to the national health service if we rectify poor housing.

Above all, energy is big business. We spend £50 billion nationally on energy per year.

Action is needed. Last year, a poll was conducted before the Second Reading of the Energy Conservation Bill. Although one must be slightly sceptical about polls of Members of Parliament, seven out of 10 Members wanted a more strategic approach to energy conservation.

Support for the Bill has grown and grown. It will not only help our environment; it will help people. It will help those who are at present in homes that are cold or damp.

Finally, I should like to paint for hon. Members a vivid picture that I have of when I first was an elected person, helping people. I went into a home where the bathroom and kitchen were covered in black mould—a decent house, not insulated, where there was not enough money to pay for heating. As I present the Bill to the House, I have that picture. We have the opportunity to make that picture something that is of the past and will not happen again.

Welcome though the debate is, we have discussed the matter for far too long. There is much agreement. There is so much support that surely now is the time for action—to make possible a truly comprehensive, integrated energy conservation policy for the nation.

I commend the Bill to the House.

10.5 am

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

I am pleased to have the opportunity of congratulating the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on her good fortune in the ballot and on introducing the Bill. I assure her that she has absolutely nothing to fear from having the privilege of introducing legislation. It has always, I think, been a belief of every Back-Bench Member of the House that the Government do not have a monopoly of introducing legislation, and that Back Benchers make an extremely valuable contribution to the sum of legislation on the statute book. I say that with the experience of having introduced seven Private Members' Bills of my own, all of which are now Acts of Parliament.

I am strongly in favour of energy conservation measures. They are, as the hon. Lady rightly said, highly desirable in contributing to the health and happiness of the nation, and they should be supported wherever possible.

I have welcomed the steps that the Government have taken to make our homes warmer and to prevent the waste of energy, and I am pleased to welcome the Bill as a further step in that process, which I hope will not stop here, but will make further progress in the years to come.

The Bill is, if I may say so with due respect to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), an improvement on the Bill that was introduced by him in the previous Session. I am sure that his wise advice has been available to the hon. Lady, drawing on the benefit of his experience on Report, which has now produced an admirable measure, which is obviously very much more acceptable to Members of the House.

The hon. Lady has removed some of the more bureaucratic provisions that led to the belief by some hon. Members that there would be unnecessary intrusion into private homes, which was implied by the need for expensive, intrusive energy audits of the type which, if they are carried to excess by local authorities, can sometimes lead to problems. They were an important feature of the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman in the previous Session. That should mean that activity of local authorities as a result of the Bill will, as far as possible, be simply an extension of what the Government encourage them to do as part of the housing investment programme and within existing local government and housing legislation.

However, the Bill goes some way to achieving laudable aims that add to the policies that are being pursued by the Government with widespread and, I believe, cross-party support. I have been a great enthusiast for the Government's energy efficiency scheme. As hon. Members know, last year, the Chancellor doubled public spending on that scheme so that, for the first time, everyone aged more than 60 became eligible for a grant. I am sure that that has been extremely successful and I welcome the additional £10 million that the Chancellor announced in his Budget statement.

I have seen at first hand the tremendous benefit that is conferred on people by the scheme, particularly in the many old homes that are not energy efficient. We are proud of the number of listed buildings that we have in our country and of the towns, cities and villages whose character is enhanced by buildings constructed many years ago. All those buildings, almost without exception, are not energy efficient. The use of the energy scheme introduced by the Government means that draughts are excluded and elderly people living in those houses are, for the first time, warm and comfortable—a tremendous advance in our time. I hope that we can go further. The scheme starts when one reaches the age of 60 which, in 1994, is a comparatively young age in terms of the human life span, so the scheme provides for many people the prospect of living in warm and comfortable homes for the rest of their lives.

The hon. Lady's Bill goes further. It is an imaginative measure, which I warmly welcome. I wish her every success in piloting the Bill on to the statute book and will be there to support her.

10.10 am
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in today's debate and support the Bill. I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on her good fortune in coming at the top of the ballot. I hope that she will have the good fortune to persuade the Government, this time, to allow her measure to pass on to the statute book.

I see that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), is in his place. The original Bill introduced two years ago included his name in the list of sponsors. I hope that he will now ensure that the Bill passes through the House.

I always warn people that, when there appears to be consensus in the House, the House is sometimes at its most dangerous. I should like the Bill to be passed, but I do not think that it is worth passing unless we consider its financial implications. When I challenged the hon. Lady earlier to say how the measures contained in the Bill would be financed, she stressed that it would not cost local authorities very much. She said that the measure merely drew up a plan, and nobody would criticise a plan for a hospital.

But there is no point in planning for a hospital unless there is a realistic opportunity to build that hospital. The same is true of the Bill—it is important that we have a proper energy audit of all buildings in the country, but unless there is a realistic chance of carrying out the energy efficiency measures proved necessary by the audit, there is little point in drawing up the plan.

Mrs. Maddock

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if we are to do what he would like to see happen, the Bill is an extremely important first step, and that without it we cannot take the action that the hon. Gentleman would like to see?

Mr. Bennett

I accept that the measure is an important first step, which is why I congratulated the hon. Lady. But it is important that, in passing it, the House faces up to the question of how to finance the work that the measure will show to be necessary.

Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)

While I accept my hon. Friend's point—that we must consider the Bill's financing—does he think that it is ironic that we should be discussing the Bill's financing and whether it will be possible when, every year, we spend more than £100 million on research and development in the nuclear industry? A transfer of money may be a way of helping to finance the measure.

Mr. Bennett

I see all sorts of ways of financing the measure, but I want to stress that it is important for the House to consider the implications of the financing. I accept that, if we draw the attention of individual home owners to the fact that their houses are energy inefficient, a small number of them will have the spare resources to take some action.

But the majority of individuals will not have the resources to implement the necessary energy efficiency measures. It is important for us to look at ways in which home owners may be able to obtain extra loans from building societies to implement measures that are in their best interests, and the possibility of grants and other provisions.

My two local authorities—Tameside and Stockport—and Manchester city council, in its overspill housing, have programmes for energy efficiency for their council houses, but they are unable to carry out the measures on as many dwellings as they would like each year. We will provide little consolation to those authorities if we tell them to draw up plans to demonstrate that many of their council houses are energy inefficient, and pass that information on to the occupiers of those houses, unless we can provide them with the resources to carry out the necessary measures.

Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that not the least important aspect of this very valuable measure is that of public information and knowledge? If more householders were aware of the considerable savings that they were able to make, I am sure that many of them would, by hook or by crook, find ways of obtaining the capital investment required to save them a great deal in the long term. If, as a community, we put resources into such schemes, we would make greater savings than we would by investing money in trying to find alternative means of energy that might be controversial.

Mr. Bennett

I accept that such an investment would be a good one, but I would argue that it is a good investment for those individuals who are able to borrow the money to invest, and for the community. I am suggesting that, if we introduce the measure, we must address the question of how we are to find that investment—whether through making it possible for individuals to borrow the money to invest in energy efficiency or by making it possible for local authorities and others to borrow the money.

Mr. Shersby

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bennett

I am trying to make a speech, and I realise that many other hon. Members want to speak. I do not mind giving way, but I must try to make progress after the hon. Gentleman's intervention.

Mr. Shersby

Surely the point of the hon. Lady's Bill is to ensure that local authorities have a plan and address the problem—in that way, householders' attention is also drawn to the problem. Some householders can carry out their own energy efficiency work and local authorities can take advantage of the Government's energy efficiency schemes—the two will come together.

Mr. Bennett

I accept that argument in part, but I stress that my authorities, Stockport and Tameside, have plans for carrying out energy efficiency measures, but the capital schemes currently in operation slow down the progress that they can make. In welcoming the measure, we must consider how to pay for it. There is no simple solution—it is a complex subject.

The report of the Select Committee on the Environment is one of which the Minister can be proud—he was the Chairman of that Select Committee. I hope that when he speaks later today, he will not only welcome the Bill but say how many of the recommendations in his report— we made few amendments to it in Committee—will be implemented. One of the key questions in the report is how energy efficiency is to be financed.

The hon. Lady mentioned the fact that, following the Rio summit, we have a commitment to stabilise carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2000. It is estimated that, in order to achieve that goal, carbon dioxide emissions have to be reduced by 10 million tonnes of carbon. As a result of the changes in the Government's policy on value added tax, about 7 per cent. of that target cannot now be achieved.

I never believed that VAT on fuel would motivate people to make the savings for which the Government hoped. Another 15 per cent. is to come from increases in fuel duties—although I am not convinced that that has changed people's attitudes towards energy conservation. Between 25 and 30 per cent. of the saving is to come from the activities of the Energy Saving Trust, as well as various other measures.

In early debate on the subject, the Government informed us that they could find 75 per cent. of the required cuts in CO2 emissions. Almost half those cuts have now disappeared through changes in policy, so it is important that the Government explain how they will achieve their target.

I understand the Government's previous main argument: the Energy Saving Trust was to be the main mechanism for providing grants and encouraging people to conserve energy. I do not approve of setting up quangos, but that quango was going to raise its money from the levy—some people would call it a tax—imposed on the privatised gas and electricity industries and, as such, would not be subject to Treasury rules on public expenditure: it would count as private expenditure. It was a very neat move by the Government. They suggested that the Energy Saving Trust should spend almost £1 billion per year over the next few years in pushing energy conservation in this country.

The Select Committee inquiry found that the Energy Saving Trust had some prospects of obtaining money via the gas regulator, but not via the electricity industry. The fundamental question that we must ask the Minister is: how will the Energy Saving Trust be funded?

The situation has grown dramatically worse since the Environment Select Committee inquiry. We now know that the new gas regulator is determined that the gas industry will not make a significant contribution to the Energy Saving Trust. The trust is the mechanism through which the Government can encourage energy conservation, but, unless they can finance the trust, I cannot see how it will deliver effectively the substantial energy savings that are required.

I believe that the gas regulator has got it wrong: she has a very narrow view of her responsibilities to the consumer, and she seems to be interested only in gas prices next year. I believe that we should take a much longer-term view of the price of gas in this country and the present "dash for gas". Sooner or later—it may be later than some people think— we will face a shortage of natural gas, and the gas regulator should take that into account. It might be in the country's long-term environmental interests to introduce mechanisms to discourage the use of natural gas, which will reduce carbon dioxide emissions dramatically and ensure that we achieve the Rio target.

As the gas regulator is totally independent of Government—or so she claims—if she says that the Energy Saving Trust will receive no significant funds via the gas industry, the Government must come up with a means of financing the trust.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Robert B. Jones)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. As the matter is slightly outside the Bill's framework, I will address it now.

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said about the gas regulator, and I am sure that he will make his views known to her in vigorous terms. However, she is considering three schemes, and we are awaiting her decision on the matter. We will obviously continue to review the organisation and financing of the Energy Saving Trust, and we hope to come to some conclusion as soon as the regulator's position is clear.

Mr. Bennett

I thank the Minister. Having written the Select Committee report, I am sure that he will appreciate that, even if the regulator approves the three schemes to which he referred, it will fall far short of the amount of money that, as Chairman of the Environment Select Committee, he thought was needed to make the Energy Saving Trust work; and, at that stage, thought would be provided by the gas industry.

I welcome the fact that the regulator is looking at three possible schemes, but if the measure goes through and local authorities carry out the audits quickly, the Energy Saving Trust will need money in order to offer grants and perhaps guarantee loans. Its needs will be far greater than its resources.

In welcoming the Bill, it is clear that the House must take the debate further: it has to look very seriously at the way in which we can finance energy savings. I suggest that the Government must look at the problem of first-time home buyers, may of whom borrow all the money they can afford—or that the building societies and banks think they can afford—merely to purchase a property.

Perhaps the Government could implement a grant or loan system which would allow first-time home buyers to borrow a little extra money to ensure that their homes are energy efficient. That would be extremely helpful, both in terms of people's comfort and in terms of ensuring that their fuel bills are lower and they are therefore able to meet their mortgage payments. It would make sense, but it would be difficult to implement at present.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I think that the hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. An idea which is consistent with Government policy and which could be implemented easily is to allow tax relief for work that is done on a house which is deemed an energy saving and approved in that context. If the Government are looking at freezing mortgage interest tax relief or reducing it further, it could be replaced by tax relief which gives people an incentive to conserve energy. Together with better British minimum standards for energy conservation, that would make a huge difference and do a small proportion of the hon. Lady's work, even before the local authorities' reports are completed.

Mr. Bennett

That is one possible mechanism. I stress that there is a problem, particularly for first-time home buyers who move to older properties and who find it difficult to finance energy-saving measures. I hope that the Energy Saving Trust will propose some ways of assisting people in those circumstances.

We also have to address the problem in relation to elderly people. I know that the home energy efficiency scheme—draught-proofing and loft insulation—has helped some pensioners, but I believe that a lot more can be done for older people in our community by way of grants to encourage energy efficiency.

I will not list all the other measures that I think the Energy Saving Trust should implement. We have to find a way of financing them. Energy saving is clearly very important for the world environment. It is also important because it will make this country more efficient and thus make us more competitive internationally. Much of today's debate has concerned individual homes, but a lot of energy is consumed in offices and other buildings.

Although it is difficult to convince people to spend money, the small expenditure on energy-efficient measures now will mean substantial savings in the future. I hope that the Bill will raise public awareness of the problem and convince the whole country that we must take energy conservation seriously.

10.28 am
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate. I welcome the Bill, and I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on winning the "raffle"—I think that was the expression that her right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) used when he moved the Second Reading of last year's Bill—or the "lottery", to use her own word. I am sure that she will win no further raffles or lotteries for some time, as she has used up all her available luck.

I am pleased to support the Bill, not least because its basic thrust is supported by so many of my constituents in Eastbourne. The hon. Lady was a little unfair in criticising those of us who had genuine reservations about the terms of last year's Bill. The House is often accused of legislating with too little care, at too great a speed, on too many issues. This may be a classic example—with all due respect to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed—of the need for a longer gestation.

I welcomed the. opportunity to take part in the debate on last year's Energy Conservation Bill—the final debate in which Stephen Milligan, then Member of Parliament for Eastleigh, participated. He and I were good friends from Oxford days. He participated in that debate and sadly died a couple of days later. That Bill was of a rather different nature.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on three counts. I have already mentioned her good fortune. Secondly, she has taken heed of the advice of other hon. Members, and presumably of officials and Ministers, on how to achieve her objectives. Thirdly, she has taken a holiday from the sort of gesture politics of which her party is so fond. When the Bill has been fully crafted in Committee, I hope that it will make a genuine contribution.

In last February's debate, I said: 1 believe in giving credit where credit is due. The Bill is an interesting and timely piece of legislation. I do not resile from any of that. I made the point that 30 per cent. of Eastbourne's population are over retirement age. As the hon. Lady pointed out, often they are precisely the people who live in older, draughty and difficult-to-heat homes that need the sort of attention that the Bill and the other schemes might produce.

Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough)

Does my hon. Friend agree that we share similar problems in respect of Department of Social Security hostels in our respective constituencies? Many inhabitants of those former hotels live in extremely draughty, cold and uncomfortable conditions—often crammed in like sardines by unscrupulous landlords. Will not the Bill go some way towards helping to alleviate the conditions in which some hostel tenants find themselves?

Mr. Waterson

My hon. Friend and I have worked closely on the vexing issue of DSS hostels in seaside resorts and their uncontrolled growth. It is pleasurable to note that the Government acted swiftly in terms of planning law, by changing the use classes order last year—although we still have some way to go in tackling that problem. It is a matter of ensuring the closure of hostels of the type described by my hon. Friend where they do not meet safety, insulation or other requirements; regulating hostels that come up to standard in future; and ensuring that there is not a mushrooming of new hostels of that type.

Another remark that I made in last year's debate is central to the palpable differences between last year's Bill and that now before the House: I am worried not only about the cost but about the potential extra bureaucracy involved. We have quite enough local and central Government officials as it is."—[Official Report, 4 February 1994; Vol. 236, c. 1156–60.] The Bill has attracted a wide spectrum of support throughout the country. I have, in common with other right hon. and hon. Members, received a letter from Friends of the Earth, which states: Energy efficiency measures are not only cost effective but can provide significant social, employment and health benefits, a reduction in household fuel bills and a reduction of the polluting gases which contribute to acid rain and climate change. At the other end of the spectrum, the Construction Industry Council also has written to hon. Members in support of the Bill. It speaks on behalf of 330,000 construction professionals and more than 1,000 consulting firms, and makes the telling point that about half of UK energy is used in buildings, and that a modest 12 per cent. improvement in energy efficiency would achieve the Government's commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by 6 per cent.

The CIC points out also that the Bill has the support of many organisations, such as Age Concern and Mencap, and of 700 local councils—and even now that figure may be out of date. The Bill enjoys a considerable body of support across the political spectrum and throughout the country.

Why does energy conservation matter? More than 20 per cent. of the UK's annual £50 billion energy bill could be saved through efficiency measures. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said: Growth is not the enemy of the environment. Growing economies can invest in technologies which save energy and dynamic businesses can lead the way in raising the standard of corporate environmental practice … The environmental buck stops in our back yard.

Mrs. Maddock

In common with the hon. Gentleman's constituency, a great many elderly people live in Christchurch. However, we must not forget others—such as those in multiple occupancy—who are not elderly but live in damp, cold conditions. I hope that my Bill will address also that problem.

Mr. Waterson

I do not mean to suggest that one group is any more deserving of help than another. My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) mentioned hostels, which are a particular problem in seaside towns—although one likes to think that one attraction for many people is their slightly more clement climate, at least on the south coast.

Eastbourne has a combination of a large retirement age population and older buildings. I yield to no one in my praise for the design and layout of Eastbourne. It was planned by a previous Duke of Devonshire on a careful grid. An aerial view or a view from the sea shows just how elegantly Eastbourne was laid out from the start. That means in turn that it has many old buildings, some of which have not been kept in the state of repair they deserve, in view of their historic and architectural value.

It was a little rich of the hon. Lady, in one section of her speech that could usefully have been left on the cutting-room floor, to comment that the recent vote on increasing VAT on domestic fuel might mean the Government failing to meet their Rio objectives. I do not recall hearing the hon. Lady or any of her parliamentary colleagues making that point with passion, or at all, in the debate on that issue. If that indicates that the hon. Lady has had a lightning conversion to the genuine argument that VAT on fuel would help achieve the Rio objectives, I congratulate her on her perception.

Mrs. Maddock

The hon. Member is slightly misconstruing what I said. The people in my constituency, and indeed the people in the country—given the way in which I came to this place—can have no doubts about exactly how I and my party feel about VAT on fuel. I regret that we are still having the same argument when we have made it clear how we feel about the matter.

Mr. Waterson

If I were made of sterner stuff, I would move on to another point, but being a humble politician—one who has some experience of campaigning against Liberal Democrats—I feel that I ought in all fairness to finish the point. I know that the hon. Lady has had a lot to do with the subject of VAT on fuel, and that it was a major part of her election campaign.

I make no criticism of that, but it seems impossible to justify a situation in which this country is the only one in Europe which does not have a tax of some sort on domestic fuel. We put VAT on the material that is used to insulate one's loft to save the very fuel that is being untaxed. The hon. Lady has tried to persuade the House that she has taken a consistent line, but there is at least a difference of emphasis between what she says when we are debating fiscal measures such as VAT, and what she says during debates on energy conversation.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

My hon. Friend was also discussing the Rio targets. Does he accept that the likelihood is that we shall be one of very few countries which will meet their Rio target, and that one reason is that a nuclear power generation plant which was put in an aluminium smelter will no longer be supplying the smelter because the smelter has closed, but will instead be supplying people's residential energy needs around the country? As that produces less pollution, should riot the Liberal Democrats and others congratulate the nuclear industry on helping us to reach the Rio target?

Mr. Waterson

My hon. Friend makes a telling point. If we are all united in the aims laid out at Rio, it is incumbent on the Opposition parties as much as the Government to come up with proposals on how we reach the target. There is no earthly point in the Opposition saying only that they believe passionately that we must get from A to B: they are obliged to give the electorate a road map to show how they intend to get from A to B.

Mr. Bennett

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Government claimed that 15 per cent. of their target for cutting carbon dioxide emissions would be achieved as a result of putting VAT on fuel? I took the trouble to check on the sale of energy efficiency equipment such as roof insulation equipment in my constituency following the first increase in April. If the Government's theory was right, one would have expected that those people who could have afforded it would have improved their loft insulation and taken other measures.

I am afraid that all the evidence I got back from the Stockport and Tameside area was that the increase in VAT last April did not provoke people into going for energy-saving measures. That is sad, but the Government must tell us how they are to achieve their target. It is not for Opposition Members, who were sceptical that the measure would achieve the target in the first place, to do so.

Mr. Waterson

I cannot quarrel in any way with the hon. Gentleman's evidence from his area. I do not know whether a more systematic survey has been done across the country. If not, perhaps one ought to be made. I will also be interested to hear what has happened once the increase in VAT has had a chance to feed through the system. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that consumers necessarily react to things immediately, and it may take some time to sink in. I shall be interested to see in due course the Government's figures on the possible effect on consumption.

Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds)

Is it not clear that, in real terms, domestic energy prices have been coming down? The net effect of that is that the Government's help as far as the 8 per cent. increase is concerned has been totally offset, and that the impact has, curiously enough, not been felt in people's pockets. Should not the Opposition take that on board?

Mr. Waterson

There is some truth in what my hon. Friend says. If prices continue to come down as sharply, some Opposition Members will complain that we shall be further away from reaching the Rio objectives.

Mr. Sykes

There are two Liberal Democrat Members in the Chamber on a Friday, which is extremely unusual. May I remind those Members that our proposals during the debate on the final tranche of VAT on fuel would have left the average pensioner £10 a year better off? By voting against the Government, they were voting against the interests of the very people whom they say this morning they hope to protect.

Mr. Waterson

Funnily enough, I was just about to make that point. As my hon. Friend made it with greater eloquence and fire than I could ever hope to, I need not do so.

A point which arose from the intervention by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) is that there is a danger that, simply because prices were cut—a rather simplistic mechanism from one point of view—the kind of people who might buy loft insulation would be those who were better off in any event. As practising Members of Parliament, we often see that the so-called middle classes are more able to organise their lives and to make savings, and that people who are less able to cope—who often, for example, spend money on convenience foods and so on—are not able to budget. We must combine measures to deal with the cost of energy with education and information campaigns which will attract the attention of the people we are talking about.

We have not just invented energy conservation today, or even last year when we discussed the previous Bill. Much is happening already—for example, housing renovation grants which have already been given for improving our housing stock. We in Eastbourne were particularly grateful to the Minister for giving us an extra £900,000 towards housing renovation grants this year. There is no doubt that a significant part of that money will go to achieving the kind of objectives which this debate is dealing with.

One of the things in the hon. Lady's speech with which I concur was the enthusiasm of many local authorities for energy efficiency measures of their own. The briefing from the Library makes the point that local authority investments in energy efficiency measures come to about £200 million a year already through repair and improvement programmes for their housing stock.

Finally, welcome changes have been made to the Bill brought to the House last year, and lessons have perhaps been learnt since then following amendments and points made by hon. Members.

Changes have occurred in three main areas. The first is cost. I think that the hon. Lady said that the estimated cost of the proposals in the previous Bill was £11 million, and that the. cost of the proposals in her Bill would be about half that figure. If she did not say that, she can correct me. That is a plus.

Secondly, there are to be no intrusive audits of private households. Whatever the hon. Lady says about the intent of the previous Bill, there was genuine concern about that. My constituents were concerned about surveys of private housing stock, and people have a natural sensitivity to the idea of local authority officials coming to their homes, and about being unable to deny those officials access. Thirdly, there will be less bureaucracy. If the Bill is to work, it is important that it is as lean and non-bureaucratic as possible.

There are some crucial differences between this Bill and the Energy Conservation Bill. It seems that local authorities would have more scope to decide for themselves how to set about producing their energy conservation plans for residential accommodation. It would seem also—this is borne out by the House of Commons paper on the subject—that such plans would be more straightforward to produce under this measure than under the previous Bill.

In turning local housing authorities into energy conservation authorities, we must always have in mind the likely extra cost and burden that will be put on those authorities. I am confident, however, that the authorities will not be slow to point out to Members, and through them to Ministers, the extra burdens they expect.

Under clause 2, energy conservation authorities are required to take reasonable steps to assess or estimate the energy saving potential in homes in the areas for which they are responsible.

Another difference between this measure and the Energy Conservation Bill is that separate strategies to achieve less ambitious energy savings—I think that they were 10 per cent. and 20 per cent. under the Energy Conservation Bill—will no longer be required. It is important that it is now recognised that we need to build on existing schemes and initiatives. I have in mind work done by local authorities in preparing their bids for housing investment support.

Clause 3 also reflects a difference between the two Bills, in that the assessment of potential savings in fuel bills by different types of household would be a power rather than a duty. That provides an element of flexibility that a measure of this sort needs.

Under the Energy Conservation Bill, a list was produced of those who had to be consulted—consultees—whereas, under this Bill, the energy conservation authority, or ECA, as no doubt it will come to be called, may consult such persons as it considers appropriate. That is another example of greater flexibility.

Clause 4(3)—not the clause IV—is a relatively little-known provision. It allows the Secretary of State to vary any timetable or timetables in a way that presumably would allow him to take account of different local circumstances. That is what appears in the Library analysis. As that was not stated so explicitly in the Energy Conservation Bill, it seems that there will be greater flexibility for local authorities in deciding what they should and should not put in their reports. I hope that that is the position, but that can be explored in Committee.

Clause 5 makes it abundantly clear that there will be no powers of entry to properties. That I welcome. As a Conservative Member, I consider that a prerequisite of proposed legislation of this sort. The Conservative party does not believe that people's individual property rights should be trampled upon, even in support of a great good such as energy conservation.

I am delighted to have had the chance to talk about the Bill, as I spoke on the Energy Conservation Bill. This measure is a significant improvement on its predecessor. It is an example of how the parliamentary process can improve legislation. I am convinced that the Bill will be improved yet further in Committee.

10.53 am
Mr. Malcolm Wicks (Croydon, North-West)

It is a pleasure to support the Bill. As I think that this is the fourth time that the House has considered such a measure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we must not detain you too long. Given the size and extent of the problems and issues, including environmental, energy and social matters, the Bill is, in many ways, a modest measure. It is important, however, because it opens up, potentially, a new chapter in our attack on energy inefficiency and on cold conditions, which I recognise to be one of the major health problems in the United Kingdom. I want to talk about the health aspect of the Bill and how decent energy efficiency measures can attack health problems.

About the first job that I undertook in my career as a young social scientist was to work on a multidisciplinary study into the problems of low body temperature—hypothermia—and cold homes as they affected elderly people. I was involved in a national survey that was undertaken with doctors and scientists in 1972 and I produced a book called "Old and Cold" in 1978, which dealt with the issues.

In the early 1980s, I went on a short lecture tour in this country with an eminent doctor from Norway, who was an expert on the problems of cold injury and cold winter mortality. When I first met him, I asked, "Tell me, Doctor, in your country do you have a major worry, as we do, about the problem of hypothermia?" He replied, "Yes, of course. I see it in my hospital. Our young people go out on treks across the country in winter, sometimes foolishly when it is icy and the ground is covered by snow. Some become hypothermic. Sometimes, body temperatures fall to dangerously low levels."

The conversation continued. I said, "Yes, I understand what you have said. We have the same problem, but I am talking about something rather different—hypothermia as it affects old people in their own homes." The doctor looked at me with an air of great puzzlement and said, "Sorry, I don't understand—in their own homes?" I replied, "Yes. The evidence shows that significant proportions of our elderly populations—those in their 80s and 90s, particularly—have low body temperatures. Every year, hundreds of deaths, sometimes a thousand, are associated with low body temperatures, mainly among old people in their own homes." The doctor could not really understand the discussion, so uncommon was the problem in his country and in Scandinavia generally, countries that are far colder than the United Kingdom in winter.

Part of the explanation is that, in the colder countries of Europe, an awareness of the cold is built into cultures and homes. Through high standards of energy efficiency, draught-proofing and insulation, they do not have the national scandal with which we still have to grapple. There are still people in this country who are both old and cold. Every year, too many of our oldest and frailest citizens die because of the impact of cold in their own homes.

The evidence is still startling. A comparison is to be drawn between the number of people who die in the summer and those who die in the winter. In the six winter months of 1991–92—October 1991 to March 1992—304,000 of our citizens died. In the preceding summer months—April to September—256,000 died. About 48,000 more people died in the winter. As for those aged 85 years and over, 25 per cent. more deaths occurred in winter than in summer.

Although the deaths to which I have referred are associated with many different causes, most are due to two general medical conditions, respiratory conditions such as broncho-pneumonia and circulatory conditions. There are more heart attacks in winter. Although the numbers of those dying from hypothermia may seem to be relatively low, I put it to the House that the problem of excess winter mortality is directly associated with energy inefficiency, poor draught-proofing and poor insulation, which are producing tremendous mortality figures.

Much of our discussion is rightly concerned with energy efficiency and the environmental and housing impact of the Bill, but we should realise that its previsions could make a major contribution to the health of the nation. One of the great health scandals in this country is the problem of the old and cold and excess winter mortality. I repeat the point—the Department of Health journal "Health Trends" presented data on this subject—that in Europe one does not see excess winter mortality to anything like the same extent as in our country. Therefore, my contribution is mainly on that point.

The House would find it very difficult indeed to find a measure that hits so many of the targets that we should hit. I believe that the Bill, although modest, could open up a whole new chapter in that part of public policy. It makes social, economic and environmental sense. It makes environmental sense for the reasons that have been discussed. It was mischievous of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) to tease the Liberal party on value added tax, because in our quest to obtain the Rio targets and our concern about CO2, surely there are ways in which we can hit the goals that we want to hit, ways which are socially beneficial rather than socially harmful. Yes, high VAT on fuel may help with the Rio targets, but it would not have helped—indeed, it would have worsened—the problem of the old and cold. This measure, if it were followed through into a programme of public policy, would make not only environmental sense but social sense.

The Bill makes economic sense, too, because at a time when, to be profitable, more and more of our major industries say that they must shed labour, we need to develop programmes that can employ labour. The rather modest projects that we have now, such as the home energy efficiency scheme, are not only a training ground for young people with the required skills but employment programmes. One of the paradoxes of Britain in the 1990s is that, at a time when so many people are unemployed because they cannot find work, there is clearly so much vital work that needs to be done. Energy inefficiency is a major example of that.

For social, economic, employment, environmental and energy reasons, so that we can finally consign into the dustbin of our social history the terrible problem of the old and cold, the House should support this important measure.

11.2 am

Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to say a few words this morning. I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) not only on having the good fortune to get this lucky Christmas cracker but on arguing her case coherently and fluently. She commended her Bill to the House well.

It is also true to say that those outside the House who look at our proceedings on television often see us confronting one another in a rather harsh fashion across party political lines. Therefore, on an issue that is so vital to so many people—energy conservation and how it affects their lives—it is particularly welcome that there is cross-party support on this occasion.

I read somewhere that the hon. Member for Christchurch was moved by the plight of pensioners in her constituency and that that helped her to form her own view and to introduce the Bill, but, of course, there are a number of other aspects to this matter. I shall relate one of my own experiences, as I was affected by the way in which elderly people react to the cold and concerned about what they should do about it.

I was canvassing in a by-election campaign and went into an elderly lady's flat. She was sitting in a small room, covered with a blanket, a matter of inches away from a small bar heater. The central heating was on. As I walked into the room, it was like being pushed over by a wall of the most immense heat; it must have been more than 90 deg fahrenheit. She said, "Please shut the door. It is so dreadfully cold in here." That fact is that old people do feel the cold. It is true of all of us that, when we are not particularly mobile on a cold winter's day, we feel the cold, too. For many elderly people, that is a special problem. We have all seen that at different times when visiting elderly people in our constituencies.

It is also true that, at times, many elderly people have an unwarranted concern about money. All of us who have elderly relatives know that even those who perhaps do not really need to have that worry do fret. On the other hand, many elderly people who feel the cold feel constrained to do something about it, to keep their houses warm, even if they are personally well resourced, because of their own personal financial concerns. That combination is at the heart of all our concerns about providing adequate insulation in their homes.

In December last year, during energy efficiency week, I visited an elderly constituent's home. It had been insulated under the home energy efficiency scheme. It was a real joy to go into the elderly lady's bungalow, because the scheme had been undertaken with great effect. It was said to me by an official of the Energy Action Grants Agency that her heating bills were likely to come down by some 30 per cent. but that her comfort level would be up by some 70 per cent. All the irritating draughts that had caused all her discomfort had been removed. She was happy and so was I.

It is true, therefore, that that scheme has been welcomed by all Members of Parliament as they see it carried out in their constituencies. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), I very much welcome the fact that the funding for the scheme has increased and that the number of houses that could be insulated has been increased. In 1995–96, some 600,000 schemes will be looked at and dealt with under the scheme—up from 440,000 in 1994–95. In April last year, an extra £35 million was put into the scheme to cover those on disability living allowance, and, of course, all those over the age of 60.

The scheme—we have seen its effects—is limited to draught-proofing and insulation. I mention that because the Bill today brings together all the elements of heat conservation under a central Government umbrella but is implemented by local housing authorities. As we have heard, it gives power to the Secretary of State to set a timetable for the implementation of residential energy conservation plans drawn up and implemented by local authorities. It is a good marriage, a good straddle, between central Government and local government.

I understand that some 700 local councils have already given the Bill their backing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) said, all of us have had letters from a number of diverse organisations, including Friends of the Earth and the Construction Industry Council, applauding the Bill. I should like to place on record the efforts of local authorities in my constituency to improve energy conservation and improve the housing stock under their control. In a sense, the culture of what the Bill is trying to achieve is already in place, but the Bill gives it a coherence and carries it on.

There are two local councils in my constituency—St. Edmundsbury borough council and Forest Heath district council. St. Edmundsbury set an objective of reducing energy consumption by 10 to 20 per cent. over a five-year period. It is also part of its corporate energy plan to purchase fuel at competitive rates. It wants to raise awareness in its area of the need for energy conservation. It was on that basis and in that spirit that the council signed the Department of the Environment's corporate commitment campaign in line with the Rio accord.

By March 1995, 2,500 homes in the borough's ownership will be up to full insulation standards. This year, £750,000 has been pledged to double-glaze windows, replace boilers and improve insulation further. As a result of that move, which I have encouraged and endorsed, all the council's sheltered housing schemes are above the current standards for insulation. The net effect of that for the elderly has been a reduction in heating charges.

The council has been promoting the home energy efficiency scheme in its area; indeed, it has undertaken an energy audit of all its housing stock to determine how energy conservation can be improved. However, although that may be happening with my local council, it is not necessarily the case universally, despite all the help and encouragement that the Government have given. The Bill will, therefore, give coherence to the move towards energy conservation. It will enhance the culture of energy conservation and encourage further thinking about the energy problems of the future.

The council summed up its endorsement of the Bill by saying: The Council very much welcomes this approach and would look to being actively involved in the work should the Bill be successful. I am sure that, possibly with a few amendments, the Bill will be successful. The culture of energy conservation is alive and well in my constituency and will be further stimulated when the Bill is enacted.

Forest Heath district council has carried out a full assessment of its housing stock of 3,436 dwellings. Some 60 per cent. of the properties have been double-glazed, compared with only 21 per cent. nationally; 37 per cent. have cavity wall insulation, compared with only 29 per cent. nationally; 96 per cent. have central heating—the only reason it is not 100 per cent. is that 4 per cent. did not want it—compared with 78 per cent. nationally; and 100 per cent. have loft insulation, compared with 43 per cent. nationally. The council has an energy efficiency programme for insulation and double glazing. It, too, has welcomed the Bill.

If I may be partisan for a moment, I want to point out that all the improvements that have been made successfully by both councils have not resulted in any increase in council tax for the forthcoming year. Both councils are Conservative controlled.

One feature of the Bill is the focus on houses that are owned by the energy conservation authority—the local authority. It also opens up the possibility that, at the request of private home owners, works could be carried out in the private sector. There is no element of compulsion or of inspectors demanding that that should happen; it is entirely voluntary. It will encourage the whole culture and understanding of this important subject—and, as 70 per cent. of the housing stock in Britain is owner-occupied, that is important.

The practicality of energy conservation is an important factor. Many people wanting to improve their homes seek advice, some of which can be quite contradictory. Under the Bill, they will be able to obtain expert advice from individuals in an agreed and wholly professional manner. That is excellent news.

In August 1992, the home energy efficiency scheme undertook a survey of the grants that it had made and discovered that two thirds of the recipients would not have carried out the energy efficiency work without help from the scheme. The Bill will move that process along in a variety of ways.

We need to consider another factor relating to the macro-economic picture over the past eight years. There has been an extraordinary cycle in commercial and residential property: there was considerable housing construction activity throughout the industrialised world in the late 1980s, followed in the early 1990s by a slump across the industrialised world. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne said, the building trade will be helped by the spillover effect of the insulation and energy conservation improvements that we believe are desirable. It is a powerful stimulus to many people in areas where the residential building sector has been under serious pressure. That economic spillover effect is wholly beneficial.

Mr. Sykes

I do not know whether I have previously mentioned to my hon. Friend that, during the past year, my home has been totally renovated. As part of that, it has been completely insulated, with many conservation aspects being incorporated in the design of the house. I have been astonished by the amount of money saved on my gas bills since then. Should not the Bill send out the message that major savings can be made, to the benefit of home economics?

Mr. Spring

My hon. Friend is right. His experience shows that such a message should go out. I had the pleasure of having my hon. Friend as a house guest recently. He knows that in that very flat part of East Anglia—west Suffolk—the wind comes straight across from the Urals, so it is not always easy completely to insulate houses from the cold. I am sure that when he was staying with me, he noticed the conservation measures that have been undertaken in my cottage. I am sure that he was comfortable.

As I said, the Bill will stimulate employment through work on energy conservation improvements. Some 25 per cent. of heat is lost through an uninsulated roof and 20 per cent. escapes through windows and under doors. That adds up to a massive cost for the nation. It is estimated that, with the right conservation measures, a 20 per cent. saving could be achieved in our national £50 billion energy bill. We know that; in providing a national residential energy efficiency map, the Bill will give an overall strategic coherence to further possible measures to cut heat waste. The environmental advantages are self-evident.

For some years, the Government have been laying the foundations for energy conservation via many schemes and inducements. The Bill encapsulates those and takes on what has been achieved. I wish the Bill well and have great pleasure in supporting it.

11.19 am
Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

I am pleased to be one of the sponsors of the Bill whose promoter, the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock), will receive credit from three sources. She will be praised not only by the House and Parliament but by our people and by the planet as a whole. She is entitled to bask in some of the glory that will flow from that. I want to speak about those three sources in turn.

First, the House ought to be grateful for the Bill, because in no small way it will help the country to meet the international obligations that we undertook at the Rio summit in terms of attempting to reduce to 1990 levels our emissions of CO2 by the year 2000. It will also help to reduce associated greenhouse gases in line with some of our other undertakings at Rio.

The Bill is a practical application of Lord Healey's dictum about the first law of holes: "When you are in one, stop digging." Reducing emissions to the 1990 level would be an important benchmark, if not an end in itself. In practical terms, this country has undertaken to reduce CO2 emissions by some 10 million tonnes. In domestic terms, that entails a commitment to reduce emissions from households by, I think, 4 million tonnes. There are arguments as to whether that is a sufficiently high and rigorous target.

In the other place, Lord Ezra suggested that the target that the country had set itself was far from ambitious. He said: more affluent countries such as the United Kingdom should be aiming to reduce emissions significantly below 1990 levels. Such an example is being set by Denmark, which is seeking a reduction of 20 per cent. by the year 2000, and by Germany, which is targeting a reduction of 25 to 30 per cent. by the year 2005. Why is the UK being so modest?"—[Official Report, House of Lords, 17 June 1993; Vol. 546, c. 1720–21.] I think that the United Kingdom's target is a modest reduction of 6 per cent. Lord Ezra went on to speak about the intergovernmental conference in Berlin in March and said that the report presented to the conference suggested that present emission targets fell far short of the reductions that are necessary to stabilise the accumulating atmospheric concentrations of CO2 at today's level.

That is an important backcloth to the debate, and we may want to engage in continuing debate about the pace of energy conservation work. However, we ought not to confuse that with the consensus on the Bill about the direction of change. It is easier to get people to act virtuously if they do not have to live their lives miserably, and the Bill will make its most significant and immediate contribution at that people-focused level.

Sadly, winter cold still claims the lives of some 50,000 people in our country. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Wicks) for spelling out how that is broken down. The statistics are a sad fact of life and death. We must add the harder-to-quantify figure of the millions more who are miserably cold, poor and unhappy because of fuel poverty. That is the context in which the House must commit itself to treat the British public no less favourably than Governments across Scandinavia treat their citizens. It is right for my hon. Friend to set that down as a legitimate point of comparison for where we are now.

I should like to pay a couple of tributes. This is the 10th anniversary of a campaign that was started in my city of Nottingham by the local paper, the Nottingham Evening Post. Every year it has run a hat campaign in relation to the old and cold, and it has been a source of constant and quite proper irritation for local and national politicians. That newspaper has been unapologetic in its pursuit of a claim that we ought to treat the fuel-poor better than we have treated them in the past. It has constantly badgered politicians and the public, reminding us of the stark personal facts of fuel poverty.

I congratulate that paper on doing that and on running a practical campaign. It set up a winter fuel fund from which some 2,500 families have been helped to meet fuel bills that they would otherwise not have been able to pay. That local, practical contribution is worth acknowledging and praising. But that newspaper would be the first to acknowledge that we need a national policy on energy conservation rather than simply an appeal to individual conscience.

In that context, I should like to focus on the actions of Nottingham city council. Many of those actions have been pioneered by the leader of the council, Councillor John Taylor.

The council has already set itself a target of reducing its internal energy consumption by 30 per cent. In addition, it wants to explore ways to contribute not only to the campaign in support of the Bill, but to determine the practicalities of what it would mean on the ground. In Nottingham's case it is in the air, because this month it is undertaking a thermal imaging scan of the whole city. I shall deal with some of the practicalities of that. One of the reasons for the scan is that even from the initial surveys and calculations of energy saving potential in the city, the council realised that Nottingham stands to save about £20 million a year simply by reducing wasted domestic energy costs if houses across the city are properly insulated. The council knows that one of Nottingham's current contributions to atmospheric pollution is some 750,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. To tackle that locally makes a small but significant contribution to Britain's overall commitment.

The thermal imaging survey has been planned in partnership with a number of local businesses, and its total cost is some £17,000. I should like to refer to some of the pilot costings per household to individual authorities. During the Second Reading debate on the Energy Conservation Bill last year, the then Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), said: Newark and Sherwood district council … estimates that it would cost £1 per dwelling. Derby district council … estimates that it would cost 53p per dwelling."—[Official Report, 4 February 1994; Vol. 236, c. 1196.] He said that, if those costs were replicated by other local authorities, the cost of setting up databases throughout the United Kingdom would be between £11 million and £23 million.

In Nottingham, the total cost of the thermal imaging survey is working out at 17p per household. Members of the public will be able to identify their house and the heat wasted from it at the time of the survey. The city council generously offered the facility to adjoining district councils. Broxtowe, which is Conservative-controlled, has agreed to take part and its contribution is £400. Sadly, the other adjoining council in the flight path, Rushcliffe, which is represented in Parliament by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has so far declined to take part. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be considerably distressed to learn that that borough council is not prepared to pay for such a survey. Even if the costs of participating in it were doubled to take into account presentations of its findings to the public, they would amount to no more than 2p per household. It is a sad fact that that borough is not prepared to pay 2p to take part in a thermal imaging survey and to find out how much heat is needlessly wasted by the Chancellor's constituents.

I welcome the fact that the Bill contains a commitment to obligations and duties. I am not concerned about the best local authorities and was pleased to hear hon. Members on both sides of the House describe the work that those authorities have done. That is a real tribute to energy consciousness. We ought not to confuse ourselves into believing, however, that that necessarily speaks for the entire country. By building obligations into the Bill, it will require the rest of the country to set itself standards that the best are already achieving. We must also offer encouragement, which is clearly an important part of the process of making the country energy conscious.

Increasing the price of fuel has been mentioned. It is recognised that one of the problems with increasing the cost of domestic fuel is that it is demand-inelastic. Reduced fuel consumption is not entirely governed by people's bills. When faced with a choice between heating and eating, poor people do not always choose to eat. There is an inevitability about fuel bills—they arrive, and they have to be paid— and in many cases higher fuel bills are making people unnecessarily ill.

Although occupants might find it cost-effective to insulate their homes, it might be outside their power to decide. They might be the tenants of private landlords, or they might not have the means to pay for insulation.

I ask hon. Members who are concerned about that problem to consider the next private Member's Bill on the Order Paper, which was submitted in conjunction with this Bill, and picks up on a suggestion by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer—that it is absurd to tax conservation more heavily than the use of energy. The Energy-Saving Materials (Rate of Value Added Tax) Bill reflects the spirit of those views and suggests a practical application. It would reduce the rate of value added tax on home insulation materials, and I hope that the Minister will support not only the Home Energy Conservation Bill but the following one. I shall gladly give way if he wants to confirm that that is his intention.

We must consider ways in which incentives can be built in to encourage people to insulate their homes. I am sure that the Government will do so when considering this Bill. It is part and parcel of their programme in many ways. We might have to consider the pace and comprehensiveness of the incentives. Costs will be involved. As a society, however, we shall reap only what we are prepared to sow. By meeting the initial costs associated with a comprehensive home energy saving commitment, we would be saving ourselves money in the medium term, we would certainly be saving lives and we would meet the international obligations that we set ourselves.

How do we meet those costs? There are two ways. We provide a subsidy of more than £100 million for research and development costs to the nuclear industry. We might get greater mileage for that money if we directed it towards home insulation. The hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) said that the Liberal Democrats ought to be more supportive of the nuclear industry because of its contribution to energy conservation. We ought to recognise, however, that pollution comes not merely in the form of greenhouse gases, which can be measured. The nuclear industry may well be delivering forms of pollution that will usher us to our graves and leave a legacy for many millennia.

The energy supply industries must be seen to be significant contributors to the cost of reducing energy consumption, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have said. As a society, we cannot live profitably and safely simply by increasing that consumption.

Mr. Spring

I do not want to be partisan, as this has so far been an agreeable cross-party process, but is the Labour party dedicated to doing away with nuclear power and to decommissioning existing nuclear power stations?

Mr. Simpson

I want to describe the policy that I hope we shall run with. I am simply saying that we delude ourselves if we believe that the nuclear energy industry does not contribute to pollution. If we carried out an audit of pollution that considered the longer-term perspective of people's lives, as well as the short term, we might well come to a different conclusion about the public costs of going down the nuclear path.

Mr. Spring

The hon. Gentleman did not answer the question on Labour's nuclear policy, but that is a typical feature of life with Labour. There has not been a shred of evidence that anyone's health in this country has been damaged by nuclear power.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. It is not advisable for hon. Members to continue to go down that road.

Mr. Simpson

May I just point out that the word "Chernobyl" should focus not only the minds of hon. Members—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that I speak plain English. I said that it would not be wise to go down that road and the hon. Gentleman must not do so.

Mr. Simpson

I had reached my concluding sentence before the hon. Gentleman intervened.

I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to confirm that the Government will support this Bill and the Bill that follows. The House needs to send out a message to the whole country that we are serious about home energy conservation. If we pass the Bill, we shall be thanked for generations to come by a public who could not only lead more comfortable and secure lives through the winter but do so in the knowledge that they were contributing to the safety and stability of the planet.

11.40 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Robert B. Jones)

The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) clearly recognises his role as my cue man. Obviously I shall say something about the Bill, but, as with all good detective stories, we shall have the denouement once we have heard the details of the plot.

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on securing first place in the ballot. If she is a biblical scholar like me, she will remember that many are called and few are chosen, which certainly applies to private Members' Bills. I hark back to the occasion when I, too, was fortunate in the ballot and introduced my Hedgerow Protection Bill, which was subsequently blocked by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen). The hon. Lady's Bill may have a more fortunate outcome. In presenting this Bill to the House, she gives us a further opportunity to discuss the important subject of energy efficiency.

As several hon. Members said, we had a number of debates in the previous Session relating to the Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). Although I am keen not only on energy conservation but on recycling, I do not want to recycle the speeches that I made on other occasions, because this Bill has different features. Although it resembles the right hon. Gentleman's Bill in a number of respects, as the hon. Lady said, it has been changed in others, partly in response to some of the points made by the Government during the proceedings on the earlier Bill, and partly in response to comments made by other hon. Members.

Mr. Beith

The Minister is right to say that the Bill has been modified in a number of respects, partly in response to comments that he made. I should put it on record, however, that I expressed willingness at every stage to do the same a year ago, but the Bill was obstructed in ways that suggested that, at that time, the Government were more hostile to the Bill as a whole than anxious to amend it. Perhaps the work that the Minister is now doing has led to a welcome change in the Government's approach.

Mr. Jones

I was not privy to discussions at the time. I get little access to historical records, because I must plough through all the negotiations that took place at the time.

I certainly welcome the opportunity provided by the Bill to reaffirm the Government's commitment to energy conservation and, in particular, to the efficient use of energy to run our homes and businesses. That makes sense for the national and global environment, the health of our economy and the people who live in the properties concerned.

The many steps that we have taken to promote energy efficiency, to which I shall refer later, are evidence of our commitment, and I hope that our debates on this Bill will provide a valuable discussion of and focus on how we can best facilitate the greater energy efficiency which we all believe would be desirable. That is what underlies the consensus approach of some of today's speeches.

With 25 per cent. of carbon dioxide emissions attributable to energy used in the home, the Bill addresses an important sector. We now have an opportunity to discuss—I hope continuing in a constructive way—how to make the best use of the substantial experience and information already available. The support from organisations and groups to which the hon. Lady and others have referred shows that there is much enthusiasm for and interest in energy efficiency in the country.

The focus of the Bill is energy use in the home. Reductions have an immediate benefit for the householder, in either reduced bills or increased comfort—a point reinforced by the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Wicks). But we should not lose sight of the wider environmental reasons why energy efficiency is important.

Improved energy efficiency is a key element in our climate change programme. Under the United Nations climate change convention—signed by 153 countries at the Rio earth summit in 1992—the United Kingdom is committed to taking measures aimed at returning emissions of greenhouse gases to their 1990 levels by the year 2000. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South referred to the possibility of tougher targets, and cited Denmark and Germany. He seems conveniently to forget that those countries, along with others, have VAT on fuel.

Mr. Bennett

Does the Minister really believe that VAT on fuel in those countries has had a significant effect on energy conservation? What evidence can he show that the 8 per cent. put on fuel in April has dramatically improved energy efficiency in this country?

Mr. Jones

I can do no better than quote Friends of the Earth's Budget briefing: Increasing the price of domestic fuel is an important signal to householders that energy use should be cut. Cutting energy use is vital to reduce Britain's production of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, and other energy-related pollutants. Friends of the Earth therefore welcomes the Chancellor's commitment to increasing domestic fuel and power prices over the next two years through the gradual imposition of VAT. Obviously it is impossible to predict people's precise behavioural response, but prices must affect their decisions. Although many other aspects of the matter, including knowledge, are important, that is a key ingredient.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

Is it not also important to realise that energy prices have been falling, and that the application of 8 per cent. of VAT merely offsets real falls that have already taken place? If we do not want people to become lax and casual about energy use, is it not right to maintain a sensible price?

Mr. Jones

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that various factors affect people's behaviour, which is why it is so difficult to quantify the precise effect of a single ingredient.

The United Kingdom climate change programme, published in January 1994, sets out in full how the United Kingdom will do this for each of the main greenhouse gases. The centrepiece of the programme is the set of measures to limit carbon dioxide emissions, the most significant greenhouse gas, by achieving savings equivalent to 10 million tonnes of carbon.

The carbon dioxide programme is based on a partnership approach—the Government provide the framework, and business, voluntary consumer and environmental groups, and local government all have a part to play. The programme includes a balanced package of cost-effective measures to encourage a more efficient use of energy across all sectors of the economy.

We are currently reviewing the contributions expected from those measures in the light of recent developments, some of which have just been referred to, and will also take account of the revised energy projections on which the Department of Trade and Industry is working. Our monitoring shows that we are currently on course to meet our commitments, and we will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that we fulfil our commitments under the climate change convention. In addition, we shall have to consider the position beyond the end of the present target period.

Thus, while a change to low-energy light bulbs or installing improved loft insulation in our homes may seem small steps, they make an important contribution to achieving the wider objective. The Government's commitment in that area is clearly demonstrated by the fact that Britain is often the first nation to demonstrate how we plan to tackle environmental initiatives. The United Kingdom was the first country in the world to present a programme under the UN climate change convention. We also played a leading role in the international negotiations under the climate change convention.

There are many players in the energy efficiency sector. Within central Government, the focus for activity is the Energy Efficiency Office of my Department. There has been a substantial increase in its budget—to more than £100 million in 1994–95. In 1995–96, that will increase to about £135 million—an increase of almost 28 per cent. over the original budget for 1994–95. Its mission is no less than the achievement of a culture change in all sectors. To achieve that, it uses a wide variety of measures, including: publicity to raise awareness; dialogue with industry and consumers; technical advice to overcome barriers to action; financial and other incentives where funds are unavailable; the stimulation of innovation and new technology; and legislation and regulation where that is necessary.

The Energy Efficiency Office does, of course, offer programmes that go much wider than the domestic sector and housing. In the industry, commerce and business sectors it provides advice and guidance to help overcome any barriers to action and to enable people to take informed decisions on how to invest in energy efficiency.

The best practice programme, with a budget in the current year of £17 million, provides authoritative advice and information on improving energy efficiency. Energy consumption guides show users of energy how they compare with others in their sector. Good practice guides and case studies show what can be done in real situations. There is also support towards research and development.

The programme, which began in 1989, aims to generate savings worth £800 million per annum and CO2 savings of 5 million tonnes a year by 2000. By 1994, it had achieved savings of £300 million and 2 million tonnes of carbon per year. Its target audience includes decision makers and their professional advisers in industry, commerce, buildings and the public sector. It has generated more than 50,000 inquiries, produced nearly 1,200 publications, and organised more than 900 events.

The programme is backed by a network of 11 regional energy efficiency offices, which promote good environmental management and energy efficiency measures across the United Kingdom. The staff of those offices make about 2,500 visits each year to advise organisations on good environmental management and the benefit of implementing energy efficiency measures.

A commitment to energy efficiency by top management in the private and public sectors is being developed through the "making a corporate commitment" campaign. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) said that at least one of his local councils had made that commitment. About 1,800 organisations are now signatories. They agree to develop or reassess their energy management strategy; give board-level responsibility—if that is appropriate, as in the private sector—for taking the strategy forward; set performance targets and monitor and evaluate their performance; motivate staff; and ensure regular consideration of plans at board level.

The campaign is producing results and helping to raise the profile of energy efficiency and provide a focus for action. More than 260 local authorities have already signed up to the campaign. It is hoped that this commitment will help to facilitate energy conservation by tenants.

The Government are also aiming to set an example in their own estate.

Mr. Bennett

Although all those Government measures are welcome, will the Minister confirm that, in evidence to the Select Committee on the Environment, the Department made it clear that the main thrust of Government effort would be through the Energy Saving Trust? How will that be financed?

Mr. Jones

As I said a moment ago, we are reviewing progress towards the targets and the way in which events have changed. All sorts of different factors are at work, including the change in VAT. The role and the financing of the Energy Saving Trust are extremely important. They must be considered in the context of those different factors and, as I said earlier, what happens to Ofgas.

The Government have set an example in their own estate. They have set themselves a challenging target of improving energy efficiency by 15 per cent. over the five years ending in March 1996, and will be setting targets beyond that.

I am sure that all hon. Members share my delight at learning that the Palace of Westminster is itself setting an example by installing new high energy efficiency lamps behind the faces of the clock. That represents some advance from the original Victorian gas lamps. I congratulate those responsible on the Accommodation and Works Committee and the Director of Parliamentary Works and his staff.

Mrs. Maddock

I am glad that the Minister has congratulated those responsible. Those energy conservation lamps were switched on last night, which is nice when one considers what we are discussing today.

Mr. Jones

There is still a lot to do. We only need to go around the building to realise that it is often either too hot or too cold. The Bill, however, is about energy efficiency in homes.

Mr. Jenkin

According to the Bill, would the Palace of Westminster constitute an energy conservation authority, given that there are some tenants in the building?

Mr. Jones

The Palace would be in the same position as a number of other buildings in which people live. The proper authorities would have to take them into account in their strategies. I hope that it would not be necessary for others to push us too hard. I speak as an ordinary Member of the House, as opposed to a Minister, when I say that I hope that we will do more and more to make the House an efficient place in which to work or to live. If a combined heat and power scheme was proposed for the House, I hope that it would be seized, as it is a key ingredient of energy efficiency. I hope that those who are responsible will listen to that message.

One of the main challenges in the housing sector is improving awareness of what the individual householder can do to reduce his fuel bills or improve his comfort levels and so protect the environment. The current "Wasting energy costs the earth" initiative is part of our campaign to educate householders on the link between energy use in the home and the threat of climate change, and the cost-effective use of energy. More importantly, it is aimed at bringing about changes in behaviour. Hon. Members may have seen the television commercials featuring the dinosaurs Ron, Brenda and Billy and their draughty home. A Dino Dome roadshow featuring the same characters and messages is touring the country.

As part of that initiative, the Government have produced a pack for children, which helps them to understand the link between the efficient use of energy, CO2 emissions and the threat of climate change. The pack also contains useful information on energy saving around the home. Children are, as many hon. Members will acknowledge, particularly concerned about environmental issues, and can often spur their elders into action—although their concern sometimes outstrips their ability to remember to turn lights off.

The hon. Member for Christchurch mentioned Newark and Sherwood. It is interesting to note that young children were used to carry out the energy audit there. Such initiatives not only make the audit more cost-effective but involve the future generation. Little Jenny or Johnny quite likes going up into the loft to measure with a ruler the thickness of insulation or whatever. We should try to encourage such involvement.

The campaign we have launched emphasises that the average household can reduce energy consumption by 20 per cent. by taking a few simple and inexpensive measures. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish spoke about those who could not afford to take such measures. Quite a few can be taken at no cost, at little cost or at costs applied through the taxpayer through the home energy efficiency scheme.

The other day, after dark, I was travelling back through east London. I noticed that many homes had not got their curtains drawn in either living rooms or bedrooms. That is absurd, because it just lets heat escape for no good reason. People must learn to think about such heat loss.

Changes in behaviour can include draught-proofing; low-energy light bulbs; loft insulation, and others. Average CO2 emissions can be reduced by between 1 tonne and 6.5 tonnes each year, and savings of up to £100 made on fuel bills.

I welcome what hon. Members on both sides of the House have said about the home energy efficiency scheme. It is a high-quality scheme which provides advice and grants for basic energy efficiency measures for householders over 60 years old, householders receiving income-related benefits and householders receiving disability living allowance. It is administered by the Energy Action Grants Agency on behalf of the Government.

With effect from 1 April 1995, the HEES budget will be increased to more than £100 million—a 45 per cent. increase on the figure for 1994–95. That money will provide grants for almost 600,000 households per year. Among its many benefits, HEES helps to improve comfort and reduce fuel bills of recipients, save energy and improve the housing stock. More than 1 million homes have been treated since the scheme began in 1991—not a few hundred thousand, as the hon. Member for Christchurch said. That does not include those who have benefited from other ways of supporting energy conservation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) spoke about that in his speech, and I suspect that his allusions were drawn from his experience of visiting one of the installations in his constituency. I welcome the fact that all hon. Members are being involved in that process, because it emphasises the importance of not only the ends but what the HEES installers do, and their helpfulness and efficiency.

Mr. Bennett

If the Minister estimates that 1 million homes have been improved in that way, will he tell us how many more homes he expects will need to be treated? Would it not be reasonable to try to speed that programme, welcome as the money is? There is a big advantage in those homes being treated this year rather than next year or the year after.

Mr. Jones

I thought that the thrust of the hon. Lady's Bill was that we did not know that, and that we needed to know it to plan. That no doubt is why the hon. Gentleman will vote for it.

On local authority housing stock, housing authorities are expected to incorporate energy efficiency practices and programmes fully into the housing investment programme process. A council's performance in that respect is one of the key factors considered in determining the way in which resources are allocated. That provides a clear incentive to local authorities to have a well-thought-out policy and programme, and to show in their housing strategies that energy efficiency measures are an integral part of their housing programmes.

Although, no doubt, many local authorities have gone down the road that they have as a result of their own commitments and interest in the subject, I cannot help thinking that the use of that incentive scheme by the Government is a reason why many more have done so. I believe that that is the key.

Even if the hon. Lady's Bill reached the statute book, there would be a gap between now and the time when that happened, just as there has been a gap since the date when the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed introduced his Bill. The Government will press on with their own initiatives to get things moving, because we recognise, as does the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, that we do not want time to be lost.

The green house demonstration programme, with about £60 million of funding during its three-year life, established a network of more than 180 replicable energy efficiency demonstration schemes to encourage local authorities to develop and apply energy efficiency strategies to their housing. Consolidated guidance on energy efficiency in council housing issued in June 1994 provides authorities with practical advice on developing effective energy efficiency policies and programmes.

The process also ensures that the Department is well informed about energy efficiency strategies, although no doubt one of the consequences of the reports that are incorporated in the hon. Lady's Bill is that we would receive even more information and I would not have to chase up local authorities quite so much.

Mrs. Maddock

The Minister is discussing where we should put our resources. As he spoke, it occurred to me that the significant advantage of our proposals in the Bill is that they differ from the green house programme, in which, previously, money was given to local authorities that were extremely keen, and perhaps had already gathered the knowledge, although the need might have been greater in many other places. Will the Minister consider that fact when he helps to draw up timetables, so that some of the green house money will go not simply to where local authorities are keen, but to where the need is?

Mr. Jones

That is why we took the steps that we did with the HIP strategy, and why I have probed local authorities when I have done my share of the rounds talking to them about their strategies. It is also, if I may say so, why I have decided that the Department should hold a seminar for the chairmen and chief officers of the relevant departments of the local authorities that are not perhaps as aware of the need to learn from the best practice of others. A great deal of sharing can take place, and I should like to build on that.

In addition to what the green house demonstration programme has achieved, the building research energy conservation unit, in association with the private sector, has held 40 seminars throughout the country in the past 18 months, called "Energy Efficiency Training for Housing Professionals", to provide general energy efficiency advice and guidance for local authority staff. Further seminars are planned, as are similar events for housing action trusts and housing associations. I pay tribute to the performance of housing associations, which has been impressive.

In April last year, we amended one of the rules about local authorities' entitlement to housing revenue account subsidy in a way that should help encourage energy efficiency measures. Local authorities should no longer lose housing subsidy when giving tenants choice about improvements and services. Under the modular improvements rule, tenants can be offered improvement schemes which are offered to tenants in return for an increase in rent; we encourage councils to offer energy efficiency improvements in that way.

Householders in the private sector may need financial help to take energy efficiency measures. Our guidance encourages authorities to consider the use of house renovation grant resources for energy efficiency works as part of an overall strategy. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) kindly expressed his appreciation for what my Department has made available in additional resources for the renovation strategy in Eastbourne—about £900,000. My hon. Friend badgers the Department constantly on behalf of his local authority, and I have no doubt that those whose conditions are improved as a result will be grateful to him.

House renovation grants enable authorities to help low-income households with the cost of repairs and improvements, including energy efficiency. Minor works assistance can also be given, to provide or improve thermal insulation for those on various income-related benefits.

As well as ensuring that the existing housing stock is made more energy-efficient, it is important that newly built accommodation is designed and constructed with energy efficiency in mind. New building regulations for England and Wales come into force later this year, with the aim of conserving energy. The new regulations will include a requirement for all new dwellings to obtain a standard assessment procedure rating.

The SAP is the Government's home energy rating system, which gives householders valuable information about the energy efficiency of their property. Builders will be required to notify local authorities of the energy rating of each new dwelling that they construct, whether they are new buildings or obtained by the conversion of existing buildings.

The revised requirements for conservation of fuel and power will improve the energy efficiency in new buildings of all types by between 25 and 35 per cent., compared with similar buildings built to comply with current requirements. It is estimated that the improvement will lead to cumulative savings of a quarter of a million tonnes of carbon a year in the year 2000, progressively saving more thereafter.

Combined heat and power, which I referred to earlier, is the process that uses heat normally wasted to the atmosphere, and it is an integral part of the Government's energy efficiency and environmental strategy. As part of the climate change programme, we increased our already demanding target to 5,000 MW of installed capacity by the year 2000. At present, we have about 3,000 MW, and are making good progress. Several local authorities use CHP in their district heating schemes. For example, I am aware of CHP-based district heating schemes in Waltham Forest, Nottingham, Southampton, Stockton on Tees, North Avon and Bristol, to name but a few.

Other agencies have an important role to play in promoting energy efficiency in the home—not least local authorities, about which I shall say more later. There are aspects in which the European Union is involved, especially in relation to the labelling of products to indicate those that are less harmful to the environment. The ecolabelling scheme identifies products that are less harmful to the environment than equivalent brands and encourages the design, production and use of such products to achieve real environmental gain.

Mr. Bennett


Mr. Jones


The United Kingdom is developing product criteria in consultation with relevant groups, and some have been adopted already. The UK plays a leading role in the development of that scheme, and I think that it would be faster if other countries were to follow our lead.

This month, the United Kindom implemented a European Union directive covering energy labelling of domestic fridges and freezers, some of the heaviest consumers of energy in the home. The directive requires that energy information labels should be fixed to such appliances offered for sale. Consumers will therefore in future have access to information on which appliances are most energy efficient.

Efficient new appliances can save more than 40 per cent. of energy use. Since domestic electrical appliances account for about 20 per cent. of total electricity consumption in the UK, that will make a significant contribution to the UK's carbon dioxide reduction targets. Similar directives covering washing machines and tumble driers are expected to come into force on 1 January 1996. Manufacturers and retailers are already responding to those measures by developing and marketing products that use less energy to do the same job.

Standards for the efficiency of new central heating boilers and on mandatory labelling of domestic appliances have been agreed in the European Community and already have been adopted by the UK. The UK is also fully supportive of the EC's energy efficiency programme—SAVE.

As the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish said, mortgage lenders have a key role to play in relation to the private housing market. I have described how our housing investment programme process helps to ensure that authorities take full account in their housing investment decisions of the need to improve the energy efficiency of their own housing.

We want private householders, too, to make their homes more energy-efficient—important momentum can be generated by taking a close interest in energy efficiency when a property changes hands. We are working closely with the mortgage lenders to encourage them to incorporate home energy ratings in their survey reports and to offer green loans or other financial services to improve energy efficiency. That will provide house buyers with valuable information. One building society is already doing that on a full basis, and another is doing so on a pilot basis.

The Bill rightly focuses on the role of the local authority. It can do a great deal, both as a housing authority and as a body with means and opportunities to disseminate information to residents in its area. Central and local government are working closely, through the Central and Local Government Environment Forum, and its related energy efficiency working group, to cant' forward an energy efficiency initiative in local government.

The local authority associations endorsed a target of reducing energy consumption in their members' non-housing buildings by 15 per cent. over a five-year period, demonstrating local government's commitment to energy efficiency. According to what the hon. Member for Nottingham, South said, it seems that some local authorities have set even more demanding targets.

A recent survey of all local authorities revealed that much is being done. Just over a third of all authorities responded. Some 64 per cent. of the authorities in the sample had an energy manager and almost the same number had integrated energy efficiency fully incorporated into their management structure. The indications were that 90 per cent. of the sample would soon have a formal corporate energy plan.

The authorities can also pull together thinking in their districts—co-ordinating with industry, schools, further education establishments, commerce and householders—and galvanise local action. Many have shown that that can be undertaken within existing budgets, without the need for additional resources or powers. I outlined some of the imaginative ways in which local authorities are approaching energy efficiency in my speech in the House on 1 November last year.

On that occasion, I mentioned the highly commendable performance of Dacorum borough council, part of which is in my constituency. If I may be forgiven for praising what is going on in my own area again, I should mention that the authority has integrated energy efficiency into its housing strategy and has long-term strategic energy efficiency aims, objectives and targets—not least of which is the plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the council's stock by at least 1 tonne per dwelling per year by 1998. The strategy is well founded and appropriate, and clearly the same sort of thinking informs the Forest Heath and Bury St. Edmunds councils.

Let me inform the House of a few more authorities that are tackling energy efficiency—a few out of a large number. Islington London borough has profiled its stock and aims to bring all stock up to the standard of the current building regulations by 2002.

Cambridgeshire county council is running a "switch-on to energy savers" campaign until the end of this month. The campaign is in partnership with its schools and Eastern Electricity, to provide energy-saving light bulbs to parents at a discounted price.

Woodspring district council is one of the increasing number of local authorities that have completed a 100 per cent. audit of their housing stock. Energy efficiency is incorporated in a five-year programme with quantifiable targets.

I have already mentioned the trend for authorities to take fuller account of energy efficiency in their housing strategies. On the wider front, they have a duty under the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 to consider annually housing conditions in their districts. Departmental guidance published last November gives authorities advice and a detailed survey methodology to enable them to undertake local house condition surveys in the course of discharging that duty.

Mr. Jenkin

The authorities that my hon. Friend describes are obviously model authorities in terms of energy conservation. Would the Bill require them to carry out extra duties, or would their existing activities meet the Bill's requirements?

Mr. Jones

I suspect that, other than producing a specific report, the best local authorities will be able to continue very much as they are. That was the point that I made when I spoke in the earlier debate. But some local authorities are not so good, and the Bill codifies what we were doing using other methods. Sometimes, the House prefers to do that by legislation rather than by exerting Government pressure—today's debate recognises that. We have given the local councils guidance on that methodology.

Collecting information on heating and energy forms an integral part of the survey methodology. Our current research into the fitness standard introduced by the 1989 Act includes a study of minimum energy efficiency standards, and we shall be appraising the findings carefully. I hope that that account of the many initiatives which are already in hand in energy efficiency confirms the Government's commitment.

The hon. Member for Christchurch would, I think, be surprised if I were to say that the Government were entirely content with all the Bill's provisions—I certainly cannot surprise the hon. Lady in that sense. But I am happy to acknowledge that she has addressed many of the concerns that we expressed about last Session's Bill. I will not pretend that, if the House gives the Bill a Second Reading, the Committee stage will be entirely free of Government amendments, but I will give the hon. Lady and the House an assurance that the Government's approach will be constructive, and their aim will be to make it a better Bill.

Northern Ireland was mentioned. I want to make it clear that I have no objection in principle to the Bill being applied to Northern Ireland, but there are various ways of doing that. Perhaps the hon. Lady would like to give that matter some thought before Committee stage. I would be happy to continue the helpful discussions on the Bill that I had with the hon. Lady in the period before the Bill was published. Those discussions have, I think, resulted in a greater understanding on both sides.

The general principles that will guide us in considering amendments to the Bill will, I think, be readily understood by the House. We will want to ensure that any new duties placed on local authorities by the Bill are the minimum necessary to achieve its aims. We will want, too, to ensure that local and central Government are able to build to the maximum extent possible on existing procedures and information in complying with the Bill's provisions, in order to avoid unnecessary extra costs.

We regard it as important that the Bill's purpose should be to provide a tool to help central and local government in decisions on the application of existing resources, and thus to secure the maximum value for money in terms of energy efficiency. I do not think that any of those principles will cause the hon. Lady and the House any difficulties. They will form the basis of the Government's approach to the Bill in Committee.

Mr. Bennett

Will the Minister confirm that, not only is he giving the Bill his support today, but he is encouraging the Whips to ensure that the Bill is allowed to make progress at 2.30 pm?

Mr. Jones

I am speaking on behalf of the Government and, as far as I know, my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Patronage Secretary's Office are members of the Government.

I congratulate the hon. Lady again on her Bill, and wish her well in piloting it through the waters that lie ahead. No doubt I shall be with her in one of the lifeboats bobbing around on the waters. I look forward to our continuing relationship in discussions on a Bill on an extremely important subject, which was for many years neglected, at a cost to our environment and to those who live in draughty and energy-inefficient homes. If we can do something to improve those conditions, it will be a good thing.

12.18 pm
Ms Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

When I spoke in the debate on the Energy Conservation Bill on 1 November, I concluded with the words: if the Government do not change their attitude and should the opportunity arise through success in private Members' ballots, someone on the Opposition side … will be back to press the Government again and again on this vital issue of energy conservation in people's homes."—[Official Report, 1 November 1994; Vol. 248, c. 1384.] It was hardly a prediction that needed a crystal ball. The Bill, which was introduced by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), enjoyed all-party support—indeed, the support of 400 right hon. and hon. Members—yet it was talked out by the Government and, ultimately, deplored by the Minister, the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), who has just spoken.

Such deplorable behaviour could not go unchallenged. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock), having won the No. 1 place in the ballot for private Members' Bills, should have brought a very similar Bill—the Home Energy Conservation Bill—to the House. She does so with the support of an even wider range of people, and there is tremendous determination, on these Benches at least, to see that the will of the House is not again thwarted by a mean-spirited and short-sighted Government.

In that context, I congratulate hon. Members on both sides of the House on their sponsorship of the Bill. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), who has not only sponsored this Bill but introduced his own Bill—the Energy-Saving Materials (Rate of Value Added Tax) Bill—which we will debate next. I note that the Minister failed to answer the question about the Government's attitude to that Bill. I ask him whether he will take the opportunity to do that now, as he failed to do so in his winding-up speech. It is clear to the House that he refuses to do so and, as I continue my remarks, it will become clear why that is so.

Yesterday, the Secretary of State for the Environment told the nation about the pivotal role that local authorities could play in monitoring air pollution. Earlier in the week, he issued guidance about sustainable development. The Government are getting very good at the jargon but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said so eloquently today, they still cannot work out the economics. They are keen on monitoring—but only so far. They are less keen on taking remedial action, particularly if it costs money.

The Government cannot have it both ways. Environmental protection and energy conservation require the expenditure of money. It is called "investment", but it pays—sometimes quite quickly, always in the long term. In the case of this Bill, initial expenditure is expected to pay dividends not only in enabling people to keep warm at home but in reducing fuel bills, in conserving energy and by contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gases.

Ministers would have us believe that they share every one of those objectives, but their problem is that they have no strategic view. They have systematically squandered our national energy resources, made every aspect of energy efficiency more difficult by privatising the utilities, failed to place appropriate energy conservation duties upon the regulators and, as a number of my hon. Friends have pointed out, produced a complete fiasco in the Energy Saving Trust.

Mr. Nigel Evans

Will the hon. Lady tell the House whether a future Labour Government will therefore renationalise the power utility companies?

Ms Ruddock

We will certainly deal with the question of regulation in the interests of the consumers and we will ensure that the regulators are not able to frustrate the will of Government in terms of the Energy Saving Trust.

Mr. Jenkin

If that is the case, the hon. Lady should withdraw the charge that she made about the effect of privatisation, because the ownership of utility companies is clearly not the issue. She may wish to discuss other aspects of energy conservation and the utility companies, but ownership is not the issue.

Ms Ruddock

Ownership has produced a different environment in which it has become extremely difficult to have meaningful energy conservation. The utilities have been placed in competition with each other, to the detriment of consumers and the environment. I do not concede in any sense to the hon. Gentleman on that point. The Labour party in government will ensure that our energy suppliers, our energy regulators and our consumers get a far better deal, through Government intervention, than they have received under this Government.

Mr. Jenkin

The onus is on the hon. Lady to be specific. What measures is she talking about?

Ms Ruddock

I have been absolutely specific: I am talking about energy conservation and the ability to raise money for that purpose, which is the purpose that the Government had in mind when they established the Energy Saving Trust. The Government proposed that the privatised utilities should themselves contribute towards the Energy Saving Trust. The regulators have refused to do so on their behalf. That is totally unacceptable and it has made complete nonsense of the sops that the Government gave to the country and the consumers when they went ahead with privatisation.

The Minister was clearly unable to answer the very pertinent points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish about the contribution to energy conservation made by charging value added tax. Energy efficiency strategies are useless if they are incapable of being measured. The Government have failed to show how their strategy of imposing VAT on fuel has produced meaningful results.

The Bill will not suffer from that weakness. It offers the Government a real opportunity. Its merits have been described with great clarity by the hon. Member for Christchurch, and I congratulate her on the skill with which she redrafted the measures in an attempt to gain Government support. We would have preferred duties rather than powers, but we accept that the Bill offers great scope to those local authorities that seriously seek to further energy conservation.

The Labour party wholeheartedly supports the hon. Lady's efforts. In 1991, our policy document, "Green Households", made similar proposals and in our major environment document, "In Trust for Tomorrow", we propose a national programme of energy efficiency works.

Labour councils up and down the land have done pioneering work and have demonstrated the gains that could be made by implementing the measures laid down in the Bill. Those gains would not only be immediate for the householder but include the long-term improvement of housing stock and the creation of much-needed jobs.

My local authority, the London borough of Lewisham, has undertaken an energy audit of its housing stock. It has used housing investment programme moneys to undertake the insulation of older housing stock and it has surveyed public buildings under its ownership to identify the scope for energy-saving measures; yet, in common with so many other willing and progressive authorities, it finds itself short of the necessary funds.

Thousands of my constituents are cold this winter. Many of them are. elderly, are in poor health or are the parents of young children. Frankly, I am sickened and angry when they come to my surgeries— sickened because I can feel their misery, and angry because they are asking for so little, yet they cannot get the help that they need. We have heard again today that the Government are proud of their various schemes and of how many households could benefit, but the reality on the ground often seems somewhat different.

In mid-December, I had cause to write to the Secretary of State about the home energy efficiency scheme after an elderly constituent with a sick husband tried to obtain help. She was told that no money was left and that she would have to wait until more became available in the spring—after the cold weather had passed. The Minister with responsibility for energy efficiency replied four weeks later, saying that he was sorry about my constituent's disappointment. He added: This does not mean that the scheme is underfunded. It is, however, in the nature of cash limited schemes that only a limited number of grants can be paid out of the available budgets. I respectfully suggest that the budget was too small. I cannot think of any everyday misery greater than being old and cold, yet we may be sure that people are still dying of cold in this country, millions suffer damp and mouldy homes, and even more millions of households cannot heat a single room to modern standards. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Wicks) did well to remind the House of the shocking statistics for hypothermia deaths, which are a national disgrace.

Let me turn to some more examples, although I endorse much that was said by the Minister about the progress that has been made. Many local authorities have done their best to raise energy efficiency standards. Kirklees metropolitan council established a project in 1993 to examine energy efficiency and the type of programme needed. The resulting affordable warmth and energy efficiency strategy provides concrete evidence of the caring and imaginative work that can be done by local authorities. The strategy's aim is to enable tenants to reduce fuel bills to a more affordable level by providing a programme of insulation, ventilation and heating combined with education and advice. All Kirklees council homes are currently being energy rated with a view to targeting investment at the least energy-efficient buildings. The advice service is available to all residents. A pilot survey of private sector housing has also been undertaken and more work is planned.

That record begs the question that was often asked by Conservative Members in last November's debate. If councils have such comprehensive strategies and considerable success, why is such a Bill required? The answer is that Kirklees and Lewisham are among the best authorities. We must place new demands on the worst, and we should impose on all housing authorities a duty to assess the energy efficiency of residential accommodation in their ownership and to take reasonable steps to assess potential energy savings in all other residential accommodation in their areas.

The Bill provides for just that—a national strategy, locally implemented, that could bring affordable warmth to all our people. It would also raise consciousness of energy conservation, reduce domestic energy bills and contribute to the vital task of reducing greenhouse gases. I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch on her success to date, and I wish her well and the Bill a speedy and successful passage in Committee.

12.32 pm
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on her success in the ballot. There is consensus throughout the House on the Bill's general aims. I represent a rural constituency in the north-west which, although it is beautiful, suffers at times from bitterly severe weather. My constituency, more than most, would benefit from the Bill becoming law.

I have received many letters from not only constituents but parish councils, which have held meetings about the subject, and local authorities in Ribble valley. They are all delighted to see the Bill come before the House. It renews the attempt to require local authorities to draw up energy conservation plans for residential properties. The Bill aims to make provision for the drawing up of energy conservation plans and priorities in the UK to secure the more efficient and effective use of natural resources. It also aims to give the Secretary of State for the Environment powers to set timetables for such plans and works arising from them, and for other related purposes. As I said, the Bill has cross-party support.

I support the main tenets of the Bill, which include giving every energy conservation authority the duty to assess the energy efficiency of residential accommodation in its ownership; and to take reasonable steps to assess or estimate the potential for improvement in the energy efficiency of other residential accommodation in its area. Each energy conservation authority then has the onus to investigate ways of reducing consumption—the target is a 30 per cent. reduction— and to publish a report on that. It is an ambitious target, and it is something that we have to aim for.

The other main tenet of the Bill is that the energy conservation authority must regularly check the atmosphere for emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide, and assess ways of decreasing those levels. That is also vital. The Bill demands that there be regular liaison between the energy conservation authorities and the Secretary of State.

The hon. Member for Christchurch has been gracious in stating that the Government have already been active on the issue. On 25 January last year, the United Kingdom became the first country to respond to the convention on climate change that was signed at the Rio summit in June 1992. The UK published "Climate Change: The UK Programme", which set out the contribution that central and local government, business, industry and individuals will make to achieve the reduction in the UK's greenhouse gas emissions.

The programme set out a detailed package of measures and energy saving targets for central and local government and other public bodies. It also strengthens the Energy Efficiency Office's programme of advice and information, to which I shall return in a moment.

Mr. Spring

Does my hon. Friend agree that the whole point about the Government's approach to the matter is that their targets are realistic and sensible? It is all very well being critical about targets that cannot ever be reached. The whole point about the Government's targets is that they are achievable. There is no point in having a fantasy of what is achievable, and that it is why the targets and achievements as set out by the Government are so sensible.

Mr. Evans

The Government's approach to the matter has been consistent. We have been working towards those targets for a long time, and we shall be working towards them for a long time in the future. I do not believe that we shall ever be able to relax about energy conservation. As we go into the future, it will be more important that we look at fresh measures, such as new technology and the contribution that it can make to energy conservation. We desperately need to do that.

Another aspect of the programme is the commitment to further increases in fuel duties, which we have seen in several Budgets. I should like to sound a cautionary note about that. I represent a rural constituency, and one must always take note of the need that people who live in rural areas have for their transportation and cars. I hope that that will be taken on board in future Budgets, and that assistance can be given to people who desperately need their vehicles in rural areas.

We have heard about the imposition of VAT on fuel during the debate, and my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) made a pertinent point about the matter. I do not believe that everybody in the debate has been consistent in his or her approach, and I refer in particular to the Labour party. Labour Members have been happy to criticise the introduction of VAT on fuel while arguing for tougher environmental targets.

The Labour party criticised the Government for dragging their feet on global warming during the Rio summit. The Opposition environment spokesman at that time—the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor)—said that more could have been achieved, and that British Ministers could have played a more positive role, particularly in respect of global warming. As ever, the Labour party has failed to make it clear how it would hope to meet such targets. The cynicism behind Labour's approach is transparent.

Ms Ruddock

There is no inconsistency in what I have said or in what my predecessors have said on those matters. We have always opposed the introduction of VAT on domestic fuel. We maintain that it is possible to do more and to do so more quickly while having rigorous standards. I shall be happy to send the hon. Gentleman the Labour party document entitled "In Trust for Tomorrow", which sets out clearly a sustainable energy policy within the context of sustainable growth, and demonstrates the ways in which that can be achieved. There is no weakness on Opposition Benches in putting forward specific proposals. The weakness is on the Government side of the Chamber. Ministers have failed to demonstrate how imposing VAT on fuel has led in any way to energy conservation.

Mr. Evans

I fully appreciate why the hon. Lady is so sensitive on the issue. I shall be more than delighted to receive any policy papers on that issue and any others that the Labour party might care to send me. We are desperate to hear what some of its policies may happen to be.

I shall continue with my speech and refer to some policy papers of the past, which tend to show that the Government put forward the introduction of VAT on fuel as an energy conservation measure, and that the Labour party wished also to conserve energy and had its own plans to impose VAT on energy had it assumed power.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Has my hon. Friend read this week's New Statesman? I accept that it is not such a good read as The Spectator. It contains information about the changes in some of the responsibilities within the Labour party. Would my hon. Friend encourage the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) to send a copy of the paper to which she referred to Mr. Alastair Campbell, who now appears to be in charge of policy in the Labour party, to see whether the Opposition spokesman on environmental protection can get back into the shadow Cabinet? The New Statesman pointed out that the position had been downgraded along with the Labour party's proposals for securing environmental improvements.

Mr. Evans

I am extremely grateful for the information that has been provided by my hon. Friend. After my speech, I shall rush to the Library to read the article in the New Statesman for myself. I am delighted to hear that somebody is in charge of Labour party policy, whether it be Alastair Campbell or anyone else.

The Labour party made it clear in its 1990 policy review document "Looking to the Future" that it planned to introduce VAT on fuel if it were elected. Under the heading "Value Added Tax", the Labour party explained: We will use … the tax system, as well as regulation, to help protect the environment.… We will look at … ways of reducing taxes on environmentally safe products and increasing them on environmentally damaging products. The document also stated that zero-rating on items such as food, fares, books and children's clothing should remain as an essential part of the VAT system. There is no mention of domestic fuel in the document. Labour clearly intended to extend VAT as one of its green measures.

At exactly the same time, Labour Members of the European Parliament unequivocally called for the introduction of environmental taxes and "green VAT". I know what the Labour party leader's view is towards Labour MEPs at present; I am not too sure whether it was exactly the same in 1990. In their report, they stated: In promoting the environmental transformation of industry, we need to use every possible policy—environmental taxes and charges as well as regulations. There may, for instance, be scope for a 'green VAT' as part of the harmonisation of indirect taxes. That passage appeared in a document entitled "The New Europe 1990."

When a Conservative Government subsequently decided to extend VAT to domestic fuel in line with other European countries, Labour was quick to condemn the move. Despite all that, Labour continued to support an energy tax in the European Parliament and in its consultation documents.

In 1993, Labour's MEPs signed a European socialist white paper, which stated that the Community must take a number of steps, including agreement on tough and binding targets for CO2 emission reductions into the next century and a strategy for achieving them by means of the adoption of an energy tax. I know that the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) is keen to intervene to refute some of the allegations that I have made. I think that the House will be interested to hear what she has to say about what Labour's MEPs were saying and about the contents of Labour party policy documents.

Ms Ruddock

I think that I should send the hon. Gentleman masses of Labour party documents—he could keep coming to the House and quoting—then he would learn something about how a policy is made. We do make proposals. We do discuss them, then we come to policy. Nothing that he has said shows that we promised the party or the electorate at any time that we would impose VAT on fuel. The hon. Gentleman stood in the previous general election on the Prime Minister's promise that there would be no extension of VAT. I ask him to consider who is misleading the electorate.

Mr. Evans

The answer is quite clear from the statements that I have read out. I know that the Labour party discusses and debates as part of its policy programme. It is just the policy bit that we are waiting for. We await it with bated breath.

Mr. Spring

Does my hon. Friend agree that although it is true that there are high levels of energy conservation and insulation in Scandinavia—references were made to that by Opposition Members—the rate of VAT payable on domestic fuel there is one of the highest anywhere in the European Union?

Mr. Evans

Yes, it is and if ever the Labour party formed the next Government and signed up to many of the measures that come from Brussels and, perhaps, did away with the veto and made it far more difficult through qualified majority voting for us to object to any of them, we might well have to sign up, whether the Labour party liked it or not, to some of the VAT and taxation measures on energy.

Mr. Jenkin

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. I remember discussing VAT and energy matters for many hours in the Chamber during the Maastricht debate. I do not think that we want to go over the whole of that again this morning. Perhaps we can get on to the Bill.

Mr. Evans

I shall endeavour to do that.

Having dealt with the Labour party, I now turn my attention to the Liberal Democrats. I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch on introducing the measure, but the Liberal Democrats are very much in favour of a pan-European carbon tax. That might lead directly to the introduction of taxation on fuels. The Liberal Democrats and the Labour party seem to be at one on their attitude towards the European Community and signing up to everything that comes from Brussels.

The Government are committed to promoting energy efficiency, because it represents one of the quickest and most cost-effective ways in which to tackle the problem of global warming. Energy efficiency measures contribute more than half of all the savings set out in the UK programme to meet the climate change convention target. The budget of the Energy Efficiency Office for 1994–95, as has been stated, has increased to more than £100 million—a 50 per cent. increase on the 1993–94 budget; and it has increased seventeenfold since 1979.

My hon. Friend the Minister has already gone through many of the energy efficiency programmes that we have in place, including the Energy Efficiency Office's best practice programme, which has a budget of £17 million. It has achieved much since its inception. The Department of the Environment's advertising and promotion campaign, "Wasting energy costs the earth", has been superb. I believe that we should do far more to try to get across, through television campaigns, the waste that is caused when one does not pay sufficient attention to home insulation, and what individuals and families could do to help reduce that waste. When one considers that more than a quarter of all carbon dioxide produced in this country comes from energy used in the home, it shows how important that is. By taking a few simple energy efficiency measures at home, the average family could reduce its energy consumption, as the Minister stated, by 20 per cent. and into the bargain reduce its fuel bills by some £100.

I fully support the building regulations that come into force on 1 July this year, which include a requirement to provide energy ratings for new dwellings and a requirement for conservation of fuel and power. The Bill focuses on domestic housing and emphasises the important role of local authorities. I am proud to say that, in my constituency, both Ribble Valley and Preston borough councils, as well as all the Ribble Valley parish councils, are very much in favour of home energy conservation and are active in that area.

Ribble Valley borough council has been especially assiduous in taking advantage of the grants available and using them to improve the energy rating of its homes. The council is often mentioned by the Energy Efficiency Office as being one of the best examples of a council making full use of whatever is available to reduce energy waste. I commend any hon. Member interested in energy conservation to contact his local authorities to find out what they are doing.

I visited a council home in my area last year. At the time, it was being fitted with loft, tank, door and window insulation. My hon. Friend the Minister said that when he was driving around recently, he noticed houses where the curtains were open. So much energy is lost because of that. There is scope to provide more information, so that people become aware of the fact that, by taking simple measures, which cost nothing, they can reduce energy waste and save money.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

There are many similar examples. People who go out in the evenings or away for weekends often leave their central heating and hot water systems on the same settings as they use when they are there. A little thought, preparation and the use of simple controls—at no cost—would save money and limit environmental damage. We must get across the message that people should first tackle no-cost measures, then low-cost measures and then, increasingly, those that require higher investment.

Mr. Evans

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. As has been said, some young people are aware of environmental issues and what they can do to conserve energy and limit damage to the planet. However, we need more programmes to get that message across to other youngsters. My hon. Friend joked about youngsters leaving lights on throughout the house and suggested the simple measure of turning the light off when leaving a room. He also mentioned the energy efficiency gains from using the new bulbs that conserve energy. I know that they cost more than traditional bulbs, but the saving achieved will more than pay for that in the long term. I hope that people will be educated not to take short-term measures which appear to be cheap, but which in fact cost money in the long run.

Ribble Valley borough council has spent much of its grant for energy conservation on improving sheltered housing. It is vital that elderly people are kept warm. Many of the older generation are extremely careful with their money, but some of them overdo it. I have been into some of their homes where heating is restricted not just to one room, but to no room. I am fully conscious of the limited budgets within which many people have to operate, but I hope that more can be done to educate them about some of the simple measures, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Minister, that could be taken to keep their homes warm.

The council has used some of its own funds to ensure that more energy conservation measures are taken in its area. That practice should be encouraged because it results in large energy savings. My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned a figure of 20 per cent.; my council has mentioned 17 per cent. It is obvious that more can be done.

The hon. Member for Christchurch mentioned a vital issue—that although some local authorities, such as mine, follow best practice, others do not. That is why we need the Bill. Some people would benefit greatly from taking energy conservation measures in their homes. They might be ignorant of the possibilities available or unable to afford to take essential and necessary measures in the short term. Therefore, we must ensure that money is targeted at those who are most in need. Some people who can afford energy conservation measures are already following best practice, but there are others in the community who need help. We ought to target our resources and attention to some of those people. That will cost more in the short term, but it could save money in future.

As a result of the Rio summit, we are committed to doing more to protect our environment. The time for procrastination is long gone: now is the time for action. We have reacted well to calls to control emissions of, for example, CO2 and we must now work to deal with energy usage. No effort is required to say at a summit, "Yes, that is easy." That is rather like some of the things to which our European Union friends sign up and do not enact. We must take action.

I am delighted at the way in which the Bill differs from the one that was presented by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). Earlier in the debate I spoke about transparency, and I know that the hon. Member for Christchurch knew exactly what I was referring to. It is amazing that when a clipboard mentality comes into operation, people at all levels—not just local authorities but people at Westminster, in Whitehall and within the European Community—interpret a measure to suit their own ends. Therefore, I am delighted that the limitations placed by the Bill on local authority officers in trying to formulate proposals are quite transparent. The hon. Lady referred to such officers as the thermal thought police. That is a delightful description of what we feared they would become under the earlier Bill.

Employment possibilities have been mentioned, as has a figure of 500,000 jobs. We cannot put a figure on the number of jobs that will be created, but they would be spread throughout the country and would be created not just by local authorities but by many private firms that would become involved in conservation measures. Employment is a useful by-product of the Bill. We need the Bill and energy conservation. If it was just another measure to create employment, I would be rather dubious about it. I support it because it produces so much good; it is less prescriptive and far more flexible than the earlier one, and has gained support in all parts of the House.

I had hoped to hear more in the debate about Labour's policy. The hon. Member for Deptford has told me that her party has policies. But we do not quite know where they are. Perhaps, like some of the best laid plans or like Jaguar cars, people have forgotten where they put them. I hope that in speeches in the not too distant future, Labour will shed a little light on some of its policies, especially on energy conservation, because the country is waiting and listening. At the moment we hear nothing.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch on her Bill and I look forward to supporting it in all its stages.

12.57 pm
Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

I shall speak briefly about the Bill and register my support and enthusiasm for it. I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock), and I am pleased to be present on an occasion of such encouraging consensus. Some hon. Members have thought it necessary to elaborate on some issues and decorate the debate with a semblance of confrontation, but it would be out of keeping with the spirit of the House if the debate did riot have a dose of that.

It is nice to see the Bill in its latest incarnation. I appreciate the way in which the political parties have in turn supported the Bill. I understand that the Liberal Democrats have supported it from the beginning and that, after some initial reticence and scepticism, Labour decided to embrace it with enthusiasm. Of course, the minority parties, as they are called, have been enthusiastic all along.

We must mention the Green party, without which the Bill would not have been devised or brought before the House, or attracted the backing that it has received. We should all appreciate the enormous input from that direction, and the general public also need to understand that.

I will not list the litany of organisations and agencies that have supported the Bill, as that has been done. There is every sign that the Government have also been convinced, which is most encouraging.

I do not need to rehearse the rationale for the Bill, either, as that was covered in the Library research paper. I congratulate the author, partly because the paper puts the matter in context so excellently. It mentions the need to reduce pollution, especially CO2 emissions, to meet targets and to go well beyond them. There is no question about that—we must go well beyond stabilisation in 2000. We need policies that take us far beyond. The paper also mentions the need to reduce the rate of depletion of non-renewable resources, an aspect that we have not dealt with a great deal, which is also crucial.

We need to do all those things within the context of the relatively new concept of sustainable consumption. That is one of the buzz phrases that is part of the Rio process. I recommend to hon. Members a useful document that was produced by the Commission for Sustainable Development, following a seminar on sustainable consumption in Oslo in January 1994. The elaboration of what a sustainable pattern of consumption involves continues, and there is to be a further seminar in Norway on the subject.

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman described the need to go much further with environmental targets and the reduction of damaging energy consumption. What is his view on nuclear power and the role that it can play in clean generation, rather than using the non-renewable resources that he clearly wishes to conserve?

Mr. Dafis

That is a path down which people will be increasingly invited to go in the years ahead, when we come face to face with the serious reality of how difficult it is to reduce CO2 emissions. We have to find ways other than nuclear energy. We must modify and radically reconsider our patterns of industrial production and consumption—that is what sustainable consumption, which forms part of sustainable development, is about.

We must certainly withstand the facile suggestion that nuclear energy is the answer because it does not produce pollution of the type that we have been discussing—sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and, in particular, CO2. That suggestion is foolish.

We must recognise that, if we move properly towards sustainable consumption, and really understand and develop that idea, it will have far-reaching implications. We are really just at the beginning of the process. We also need to move towards sustainable consumption in a socially equitable way and one that will link environmental improvement with job creation, which is the next phase in the development of environmental policy.

I recommend the work of Friends of the Earth in its recent publication, "Working Future", which explores the idea that there is no contradiction or serious conflict between environmental protection and employment. On the contrary, there is an inter-relationship and interdependence which we need to recognise and on which we must base our economic policies. The recent launch of that volume was supported by the chairman of Cambridge Econometrics, Terry Barker. That new understanding comes from well-informed and sophisticated directions. We must do all that while emphasising the need to improve the quality of people's lives—their health, comfort and fuel costs. That is an extraordinarily attractive combination.

A great deal has been achieved. The Government have reached a state of acceptance but much has been achieved through the process of discussing the Bill and its predecessors since I introduced the first Energy Conservation Bill in 1993, simply because they have encouraged debate in this place. It has been good to see hon. Members who at first were not particularly engaged in the matter speak intelligently and in a well-informed way about this extremely important issue. We have clearly achieved a heightened awareness. It was good to have the Chancellor himself speak about the home energy efficiency scheme at a time of high drama not so long ago.

The argument has been won, so I do not need to go through the arguments that were expressed in opposition to previous Bills. Those, too, have been dealt with successfully, and modifications to the Bill have tried to cope with the fanciful objections raised by the Government.

The Bill is on exactly the right lines. Clearly, the process must be mandatory. It must be comprehensive and UK-wide, so that it benefits people everywhere, not just those who live in the territories of enlightened local authorities. Plans must be laid out, because we need cost-efficient, properly prioritised processes. The measures must apply to private housing, because, first, private landlords are among the worst culprits in terms of investing in energy efficiency; and, secondly, the majority of houses are owner-occupied, and many are energy-inefficient. The Bill has been modified to meet all those requirements.

Yesterday, the Department of the Environment published a document called "Air Quality: Meeting the Challenge". After a brief glance at it, it seems reasonable to congratulate the Department on its approach. It shows how much the Bill is in keeping with the Government's approach. The document speaks about the need for a UK-wide action plan; a crucial role for local authorities; the need to give powers and place obligations on local authorities in devising those plans; the need to prepare plans for remedying air quality problems; and target setting. It also recognises the resource implications and the fact that they need to be carefully costed, and says that that will be the subject of further consultation with local authority associations.

Thus, the Bill may have done more than raise the matter of energy conservation and efficiency. It may be a model for co-operation between central Government and local authorities in a process of local involvement that can apply in future to other action programmes that form part of an environmental, social and economic policy.

1.8 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

In following the hon. Member who has just spoken, I shall call his constituency simply Pembroke, North for fear of offending him and his constituents by mispronouncing his constituency's full name.

Mr. Dafis

The hon. Gentleman will seriously offend my constituents if he does not refer to Ceredigion. I shall not explain why.

Mr. Jenkin

I am extremely grateful that the hon. Gentleman has relieved me of that onerous task. Although I am proud to have a Welsh name and Welsh forebears, the Welsh tongue must have left my ancestors many years ago, as my family emigrated to York in the 14th century before settling in Kent in the 16th. I have therefore lost my Welsh roots.

I understand that the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) speaks for the Green party. I was therefore most interested in his comments about low energy usage and the strategy to achieve that in the United Kingdom. It is encouraging that the Bill has such wide support, from the most capitalist organisations to some of the most socialist ones, including Friends of the Earth. It is cause for concern, however, that not all those organisations share the same practical enthusiasm for nuclear power. Following my intervention on the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North, it appears that he seems not to support it either.

It is difficult to imagine how any substantial savings to the atmosphere can be achieved unless it is through a process of substituting for environmentally damaging power generation that which causes less environmental damage. Nuclear power produces low levels of pollution, and what material is produced is in such small quantities that it can be safely and easily dealt with. It is a sad commentary on the impracticality of the hard core environmental lobby in the country that it does not yet support nuclear power.

Mr. Beith

The hon. Gentleman is wrong to suggest that there is no other way of reducing environmental pollution, because one of the most important ways of doing so is by reducing demand for energy. That part of the process can be carried out by the Bill, just as other Government policies are intended to carry it out. The hon. Gentleman must also recognise that the principal source of anxiety about the nuclear power industry, apart from its past tendency to expect huge increases in demand, stems not from its production of electricity, but from the unresolved problem of decommissioning.

Mr. Jenkin

I am not sure that the problem of decommissioning is unresolved. There are plenty of unresolved problems with every form of electricity generation, including the use of so-called "renewables", because the scale of activity required to take advantage of the wind, tides or waves damages the environment in different ways. I am opposed to a Severn barrage because of its effect on the area's ecosystem. I am also greatly concerned about the despoliation of the landscape and the disruption caused to migrating birds by huge wind farms in rural areas. We should remember that noise is another form of pollution, about which we should be equally concerned.

Nuclear power stations produce huge quantities of energy, occupy relatively small sites and produce virtually no pollution. What is even more encouraging is that it has now been proved that the life expectancy of nuclear power stations can be extended safely and effectively to produce cheap power.

Next door to my constituency is one of the old Magnox power stations, which is still functioning safely and producing nuclear energy at extremely low cost without any environmental impact that can be measured.

Mr. Nigel Evans

I invite my hon. Friend to visit my constituency to see the wind farm in the neighbouring constituency. It is not just the noise pollution from such farms which makes people rather reluctant to support that form of energy generation, but the fact that they are a blot on the landscape. I represent a beautiful constituency, and I assure my hon. Friend that I would strenuously fight any attempt to erect a farm of windmills in it.

Mr. Jenkin

There is, luckily, not a lot of wind in my constituency, except that from the Liberal Democrat-controlled town hall, which generates so much wind that I do not think any device could safely capture it without damaging the environment.

Mr. Llew Smith

Will the hon. Gentleman make a public statement today, welcoming a nuclear power plant in his constituency?

Mr. Jenkin

I have welcomed Sizewell B, which is being built quite close to my constituency.

There is actually no proposal for such a nuclear power station in my constituency, but in answer to the hon. Gentleman, the same sort of objections apply to new factories, to new roads and to new shopping centres, but it has nothing especially to do with nuclear power. However, I wish to move on to the—

Mr. Smith


Mr. Jenkin

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman again, if he insists.

Mr. Smith

I do insist, and the question is a simple one, which I pose to the hon. Gentleman: will he make a public statement today, welcoming a nuclear power plant in his constituency? Will he please answer a simple question with a straightforward answer?

Mr. Jenkin

But there is no proposal for a nuclear power station in my constituency. There was a proposal for a gas-fired power station in my constituency, but I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that I opposed that, because it was an inappropriate place, in my opinion and that of my constituents, in which to have it. In that respect, I think that the hon. Gentleman would be pushed to find anywhere in the country for a large industrial installation, whether it was nuclear or not, where it would be popular with the local people concerned. We all share that problem, because we all live in an industrial society. Whether the installation was nuclear has no relevance to the comments that he made.

I shall move on briefly to the other comments made by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) about achieving low energy consumption. The one thing that we have established in the past 20 years is that one can sustain economic growth without increasing energy consumption. That overturned an expectation in economics that had become almost a written fact.

The seminal document on that matter was written in the 1970s, by Professor Leach. It was called, "A Low-Energy Strategy for the UK". I think that there were two authors. If I recall correctly, they were supporters of the use of non-polluting and non-renewable energy generation in substitution for the use of renewable resources.

I join everyone in the House who has congratulated the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on coming top of the ballot and introducing the Bill. I must also apologise to her, and to the House, for being unable to be present for the first part of the debate, because there are great events afoot in my constituency, in the town of Brightlingsea, where there is huge public feeling against the transport of live animals.

Perhaps that has some relevance to today's debate about energy conservation, because it is extraordinary the way in which European Community law can influence people's behaviour, so that, instead of efficiently slaughtering animals in this country and shipping the carcases, which would surely be more energy efficient, we find ourselves, rather inefficiently, shipping live animals across the water to other parts of the European Community.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That has very little to do with home energy, though.

Mr. Jenkin

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was simply explaining why I have not been able to be present for the debate. There is huge public feeling on that matter in my constituency, and my constituents would wish to know that I had been giving my attention to that matter.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

I think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that my hon. Friend might have been about to say that people who leave their homes to join demonstrations should ensure that they turn the heating down while they go to the protest.

Mr. Jenkin

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. He brings an original mind to every subject he approaches—never more evidenced than today.

The Bill and the Government's support for it reflect the support that the Government have given to the principle of energy conservation ever since being elected. That has been true more than ever since the Rio summit, when we set ourselves targets to reduce energy consumption and the generation of atmospherically damaging gases.

My hon. Friend the Minister said that the home produces 25 per cent. of the carbon dioxide produced in the United Kingdom. It is worth emphasising—perhaps it should be advertised more frequently—that energy conservation in the home is not just about saving money, but about improving comfort. If people realised that they would not only save money, but would be able to walk down to the kitchen in the morning to make an early morning cup of tea without piling on so many dressing gowns, they would be more inclined to conserve energy in the home. Ordinary people can obtain genuine benefits by pursuing energy conservation measures in the home.

I mentioned that the Palace of Westminster is a home. I often walk around it and wonder whether there is a low-energy strategy for the whole of the Palace. The hon. Member for Christchurch mentioned the new lighting system in the Clock Tower, which will be beneficial—I gather that it will save about £1,000 per year in energy consumption. But there are many areas of the Palace, which is our home, where further savings could be made.

How often have we been in parts of our home, the Palace, and found areas of it ludicrously hot, with the windows wide open in an attempt to disperse the heat as rapidly as possible? There are not enough thermostats on the radiators, and there are not enough thermostats controlling the heating systems. I urge the Palace authorities to do what they can to improve the system.

I have received much correspondence on home energy conservation from my constituents, who have almost universally urged me to support the principle. It gives me pleasure to be able to welcome the Bill, which has advantages over the previous Bill, not least that of flexibility. It is important not to place too big a burden on local authorities.

Opposition parties for ever complain that we have constantly added to the duties of local authorities and failed to fund them effectively. Here is a case where we are determined not to place unnecessary additional burdens on local authorities. My hon. Friend the Minister explained that a number of authorities in this country already pursue policies that the Bill would require them to adopt, so very few extra burdens would be imposed on those authorities. The Bill targets the recalcitrant and delinquent authorities, which should be an advantage.

It is perhaps a comment on public housing authorities that the Bill is needed. Good housing authorities should be implementing the provisions already. I am not making a party political point: I simply wish to emphasise that good public sector housing authorities have a duty to improve the lot of their tenants as best they can to save them money, improve their comfort and, as the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) said, save lives.

Those in the private sector also have a moral duty to take such action, but I do not think that it would be effective to legislate in the same way for private sector home owners.

Mr. Nigel Evans

My hon. Friend mentioned lighting. Does he believe that, when local authorities consider ways to save energy, they should not do so at the expense of security? So many of our car parks and other places in town centres have insufficient lighting for security purposes, particularly for ladies who are on their own.

I refer specifically to car parks because I know that some people are fearful of using them for this reason. Does my hon. Friend agree that the authorities could look at ways of introducing energy-efficient lighting in such places, as opposed to no lighting at all?

Mr. Jenkin

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. Residents in my constituency have complained to me that one part of the public housing stock is not adequately lighted. The council complains that it would cost a lot of money to light it adequately, but the use of low-wattage light bulbs and effective lighting design means that it can be achieved much more cheaply than the council perhaps expects.

The Minister suggested that there should be one or two amendments to the Bill, and I look forward to learning what they might be. One amendment that I recommend is that the definition of housing authorities should be widened to include the Church Commissioners, who have a large housing stock. I serve on the Social Security Select Committee which has been examining the Church Commissioners' conduct. It is incumbent upon Parliament to hold the Church Commissioners responsible for their activities to some degree, and perhaps that should apply to their activities in this area.

Earlier in the debate I exchanged ideas with the hon. Member for Deptford about the amount of money that is being spent on energy conservation. I think it is important that we do not regard 'the amount of money spent as some symbol of political correctness in energy conservation. There must be a limit to how much money can be spent effectively.

Although energy conservation measures may seem good in theory, in practice implementing them may cost more money than the measures would save. Construction, materials, transport and labour could use more energy than the measures would warrant. We must ensure that energy conservation measures are practical, not just ideological.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

Does not my hon. Friend agree that it is also important to avoid confusion between the total amount of public money spent and the total expenditure of money from all sources? Clearly, we want to encourage private home owners to spend money on improving their homes. There is a very good example in the hon. Lady's constituency, whereby Christchurch borough council carried out a large-scale voluntary transfer and, as a result, the new Twineham housing association has managed to bring forward many of its energy improvements, and now has one of the most energy-efficient housing stocks in the country. That shows what imagination and the powers granted by the Government can achieve together.

Mr. Jenkin

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. He touched upon the question of private home owners and private rented stock. It is difficult to know what local authorities should try to do once they have collected information or made a general assessment about the housing in their area. There is a practical difficulty in making general comments about the wide range of housing that is not owned by local authorities. The problem with home energy conservation is that it is necessary to make an assessment of each housing type, and making general comments about whole areas of housing suggests that the state is capable of achieving a more desirable outcome than is possible in reality.

I draw attention to a letter that I received from the Construction Industry Council. Of all the letters that I have received on this subject, it is the most significant. The council is a forum for professional bodies within the construction industry, which speaks for more than 330,000 construction professionals. It includes organisations such as the National House Building Council, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and the Royal Town Planning Institute. The appearance of others suggests a greenness that they might not possess—such as the British Flat Roofing Council and the Ground Forum. No doubt they are both worthy organisations and, with others in the membership of the CIC, they represent a strong lobby in favour of the hon. Lady's Bill.

It is satisfying when the House produces a Bill that enjoys broad consensus. I congratulate the hon. Lady again, and wish her Bill every success, and I look forward to it becoming law.

1.30 pm
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

I apologise for not being present for the start of the debate, but I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on a sensible Bill, which I hope will progress through the House.

The hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) was asked whether he would have a big factory in his constituency. I would do so. My constituency has one available space of 1,500 hectares, which I am sure could be successfully developed. St. Helens needs employment.

The Bill offers hope for the old and tired, and for those who are poor—who will have warm houses—and opportunities for St. Helens, which is a centre of manufacture of insulating materials. The Bill is therefore well balanced. It meets social need at a time when it must be met. If the weather forecasters are right, many people living in badly insulated houses who cannot afford heating will be cold this weekend. There are many poor people in this land and the Bill offers them hope.

The Bill offers hope also to many unemployed people, who will find work installing insulation materials, while improving the standard of the country's housing stock and factories. If only the Government would adopt the same balance with every Bill they brought before the House, we might live in a much happier land.

1.32 pm
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

As one of the Bill's sponsors, it is not surprising that I welcome it. I am sorry that the Energy Conservation Bill, promoted by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) in 1993, failed. If the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) succeeds, at least that will be better than failing with proposed legislation that goes further.

I deeply regret the Government's change of mind on the 1993 Bill. In the final stages, I tabled an amendment—although, when it was not called, out of party loyalty I went along with the Government. My heart, as my amendment showed, was clearly with the Bill being passed.

The main reason for supporting the Bill is not energy conservation but the aim of making life better for people on low incomes. Better insulation and energy conservation will save money for all, but they matter most to people with the least resources to pay for heating. I am glad that the Bill focuses strongly on local authorities and other large housing providers. I do not blame individuals, but it is scandalous that heating systems in individual homes and blocks of flats have been left unassessed decade after decade.

It is a sad truth that people who have the least have the most expensive forms of heating. In my constituency, as in many others, some families are still expected to heat their water by using a solid fuel back-boiler in summer. I regard that as wrong. People in my constituency who were living in tower blocks—similar to a block called Nightingale Heights on an estate in my constituency—were left with a heating system which was designed by people who never had to live in a local authority tower block. The system was designed 20 or 30 years ago, when everyone thought that electricity was going to be dirt cheap. The flats had an underfloor electric heating system which did not work, and people with one-bedroomed flats had to spend £20 a week during the winter months, to be cold.

In Nightingale Heights—thanks to the efforts of one local person in particular, Sheila Mudie, to whom I pay tribute—people now spend about £5 a week to be warm. The gains in comfort and safety are important. I remember a retired soldier, who must have been about 85, sitting in front of a single-bar electric fire with a dressing gown on his back and a blanket on his knees, while his elderly wife tried to care for him. They had fuel poverty and actual poverty because they did not have enough support.

The landlord in that case was the local authority, but I do not want to damn Greenwich council. Criticism in this debate should steer away from those who give their time as councillors and Members of Parliament to try to serve people. The landlord had known for more than 15 years that the heating system which was designed for the block did not work, and that people could not afford it even if it did work.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, who was then the Housing Minister, for meeting deputations and helping to get the problems of that tower block dealt with. The Bill provides an incentive to local and central Government to work out an action programme so that the problems of every tower block like Nightingale Heights can be dealt with in a reasonably short period. People who live on income support—whether they are elderly or with children—do not deserve to have to spend the highest amounts, as well as the highest proportion of their income, on the necessity of staying warm.

I hope that the hon. Member for Christchurch understood what I said in my first intervention. I did understand the provisions for the Order in Council for Northern Ireland. My point is that Northern Ireland has at present one public housing authority—the Northern Ireland Housing Executive—and it should be possible for the executive to say that it will carry on the work that it was doing when I served as a Minister in Northern Ireland about five years ago. The executive should regard the Bill as already applying to it and should make public the results of its work and the time scale for conducting an assessment. I hope that it will go on to set an example to the rest of the United Kingdom of what action is to be taken.

I shall divert slightly to say that one of the benefits of the privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity has been that people have not automatically gone on thinking that coal is the only fuel from which electricity for domestic purposes can be supplied by power stations in Northern Ireland. I welcome the fact that gas is likely to come to Northern Ireland, giving people a choice of fuels.

It is worth noting that, if one flies over Northern Ireland on a snowy day, one can see that insulation is not in place everywhere that it might be. One does not need an infra-red survey to do that, as it can be seen with ordinary vision. If there is the advantage of having gas as an alternative, the coal trade may meet people's needs at keener prices than it would if it did not have competition.

If we had just gone ahead with the original plans for extending one power station at Kilroot, people would have found themselves paying more—in absolute and relative terms—for fuel. We are now giving people choice by producing electricity in cheaper ways and by bringing gas back to Northern Ireland.

The issue of the partnership between local government and the people—the Government are there as partners—is an important point. I should like to think that the pattern of the Bill can be promoted in other ways, but this is not the time to go on to a major debate on another subject. Local authorities should, for example, find ways of making surveys of the opportunities available for young people, especially teenagers, after school. Finding out where the gaps are and providing more worthwhile activities for people in their leisure time would also be welcome. I do not see all the provisions leading necessarily to significant extra funding for the survey work. Local authorities should try to use existing resources. There can be significant savings to local authorities in many ways in the subjects that we are discussing.

It is clear that local authorities own many buildings that are not for occupation as residences by their tenants or by others. I suspect that the energy audit should be used on those buildings as well. Only a few years ago, it was common for the heating in schools in London under the control of the Inner London education authority to be left on seven days a week. That was remarkable—I am talking of the days when I used to go to schools rather more often than I do nowadays. It is good to have a swimming pool available for use by the general public or authorised clubs and other users, but it was peculiar to find that classrooms were being heated when they were not visited by anyone for 48 hours.

It might be useful to hear in Committee or at a later stage what the Government are doing in their own buildings. When I was serving as an assistant Minister in the Department of Employment 10 years ago, the number of budget holders in different parts of the Department who had responsibility for their own heating bills was slender. There were staff who had put off installing a water meter, which would have cut costs by about £100 per member of staff. Whether it is heating, the telephone or water, people often find that they have a greater advantage in taking action when they are responsible for paying the bill themselves.

The Bill goes much further than local authorities examining their own properties; it bears also on what private occupiers, whether privately renting or owner-occupiers, are doing. In an intervention, my hon. Friend the Minister talked about people leaving their homes for a significant period and not turning down their boiler or not turning it off. Most of us are conscious of turning off the electric light when we leave a room in our house. However, we often leave our heating on for much longer periods, at much greater cost and resulting in waste. That is a matter for individual action. When it comes to energy conservation, more efficient heating and greater insulation, we should encourage people to take rational action once, and it will then become self-working. The costs of carrying out necessary works can often be met by people's own budgeting and self-gain. Many things can be done that will pay for themselves within a year. Other provisions pay for themselves over a much longer period but are still worth while.

Many courses of action meet people's wishes in other ways. One of the associated features of the right to buy is visible in many of the homes in my constituency. When people have the chance of owning their own home, they often want to build a porch, which stops all the warm air leaving the house every time they go in or out. They may change their windows and install double or even triple glazing. These things are done not only to conserve energy but because they benefit individuals generally.

Although the Bill may be adjusted in Committee, it is to be welcomed. It is right to pay tribute to the Association for the Conservation of Energy, which has been raising awareness in the House for many years. I think that it has aided all those Members who introduced similar Bills in the past, to whom I pay tribute.

I return to a matter that is of especial concern to me—

Mr. Nigel Evans

I mentioned new technology aiding energy conservation. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should be doing more to develop new technology? For example, many of us use computers that switch themselves off if a mouse is not moved or if no other action is taken; we can choose how long or short that period should be. In the Millbank offices there are smart lights, which are off if no one is around and are triggered automatically when a Member enters the area. On the security front, many people have installed smart lights. They do not have a constant light outside shining in the garden, but a light is triggered immediately if an intruder or visitor comes. Therefore, it saves money when it is off but gives security when it is needed.

Mr. Bottomley

My hon. Friend did a service to the House in making those points.

The advantage of the Bill is that it will encourage people to make assessments and reports, then lead to a time scale for action. That is where we start to get follow-through benefits. When a significant proportion of people start doing the things that make sense and use modern technology, as well as some of the things that we have known about for some time, for example, condensing boilers, we can get the benefits of that technology and energy without the waste.

It is important to cut out the waste and get the no-cost and low-cost investment brought forward. Many of us will need reminding. I remember that, the second time when which I was involved in an energy debate, we managed to get the House authorities to change the lights in the room where we were to low-energy bulbs. It was not frightfully complicated to arrange. Some of our older fittings may have needed some adjustment, but we should realise that in many ways we are behind the times.

I return to the major driving force—poverty. There is an enormous responsibility on us all to ensure that so many people do not have to continue struggling with the depression, difficulty and discomfort that poverty brings. When I last saw the figures—they may have changed since—60 per cent. of pensioner households had homes with inefficient heating. I am not arguing that the most efficient heating is central heating, because there are many different ways in which to provide low-cost, convenient heating without breaking the purse or the bank—for example, solid fuel. I feel strongly that, until we have a programme that says that, within a certain number of years, 95 per cent. of pensioner households will have low-cost, efficient heating, central Government, local government and our communities will not have done the job properly.

Mrs. Maddock

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said, because I had considerable problems with getting a name for the Bill. I believe, as he does, that although the Bill does not get double glazing in the home, that is what it will lead to. That is why I was so keen for the name of the Bill to be the Home Energy Conservation Bill. I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his contribution. It has helped very much in making that argument.

Mr. Bottomley

I shall go a stage further. Like other hon. Members, I occasionally have constituents coming to me who say that they have been given a housing offer—often at the time of family formation, perhaps when they have a child, or when, for some reason, they have to move away from where they had been lodging or living. They say that the home that they have been offered is full of condensation, that it is damp and that the heating is absent or inadequate. I do not know why we do not have the same check on local housing authority offers as that carried out by most building societies or lending institutions on a flat or home that is to be bought with a mortgage. Why do we not require local housing authorities or housing associations—or, for that matter, central Government if they are letting premises to members of staff or offering houses under the empty homes initiative—to undertake a heating audit of their properties, and to go through a simple checklist: whether there is draught-proofing; whether a boiler is present and whether, if it is 10 or 15 years old, it should be replaced; whether the multipoint heater, if present, has been checked for safety, and so on? Those simple things are not directly required by the Bill, but they should become a habit and a self-imposed requirement by people who own a home.

I make a simple plea: I hope that everyone who provides a home for students is asked by the central lettings authority at universities or colleges to certify that the heating system has been checked. One constituent rightly badgers me about the lodgings of his child, who is at university, where it appears that the heating system is positively dangerous.

I want to return to the focus on poverty. Those most likely to be poor are pensioners, people at the time of family formation, when housing costs tend to be highest, income to be lowest and choice to be least, and those coming out of institutions—prison or the services—who do not have the same housing choices as those of us in Parliament.

I missed the middle part of the debate because I was talking to the parliamentary representative of Church Action on Poverty, Catherine Shelley. She rightly said that it was important to give local people a national voice on the issues that matter to them. The group's literature refers specifically to those who do not think that they can keep their homes as warm as they should be for themselves and for those for whom they are responsible. I hope that, in the discussions on the Bill, voluntary associations and the energy conservation authorities—local authorities—will talk openly about what they are managing to achieve, where they are managing to find resources, private and public, and where there is measurable change.

If we want to be accountable, we need to be able to count. How many homes are there? What is the progress towards making a significant impact? We know that we cannot change overnight the number of homes that are inadequately heated or insulated, but we can set targets. The surveys and reports that the Bill will encourage and require are one way forward. If we want to be able to help people to manage, we must be able to measure what is happening. We need to know how many people are fulfilling a public responsibility to help with housing that is a constant drain on, the purse or the pay packet.

It is clear that the Bill will not have great difficulty in its passage through the House. However, we are still left with the question of VAT on energy-saving materials. The dominant issue is not whether there is a differential rate of VAT or no VAT on those materials, but there would be a symbol if the Government took seriously the fact that many people will be using mostly their own money on energy-saving measures. I am not suggesting that every boiler should be VAT free because modern boilers save energy—that might be going too far—but reconsidering the rate of VAT on some simple insulation and draught-proofing materials would be an important step and would neatly fit in with the Bill.

1.53 pm
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) both on her success in the ballot and on her willingness to take over, in modified form, a subject that I raised in a Bill that I introduced in the last Session. I also congratulate her on the way in which she introduced the subject this morning and on the care that she has taken in preparing the Bill, which has been reflected in the favourable comments made by hon. Members.

When I brought my Bill before the House, I said many times that the issue would return to the House again and again. It has, and in a very constructive atmosphere, which I welcome. The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) will share my pleasure and satisfaction because, in some ways, he is regarded as the grandfather of today's Bill, having introduced a similar Bill in the Session before I introduced mine, on which mine was based. At each stage, we have added further requirements.

My hon. Friend and I are grateful to those hon. Members who have taken part in today's debate and who have shown universal support for the Bill. I refer to the hon. Members for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Wicks), for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring), for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) and for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), who has been a loyal supporter, and to the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock), who spoke on behalf of the Labour party. I was struck by the phrase of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley, who said that, on energy conservation, the time for procrastination had gone and now was the time for action. I was delighted to hear him say that, and I know that the Government have got that message. That is why we are making such good progress.

Hon. Members rightly referred to the differences between last year's Energy Conservation Bill and the current Bill. Those differences reflect some of the comments made during debates in the last Session which conjured up the rather delightful picture of me as the extreme radical and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch as the moderate. For this purpose, I am happy to accept that role.

The improvements in the Bill which have especially commended themselves to Conservative Members are some reductions in the direct obligations placed on local authorities and the fact that the Bill states that it confers no power of entry. The earlier Bill did not do that either, but it is understandable that hon. Members welcome the fact that the matter is now made absolutely clear and avoids doubt.

Those changes and others could have been made in Committee last year, but the Government tabled only six amendments and they did not include those points. On Report, they tabled far more amendments than they could possibly have needed in any serious attempt to sort out the Bill. At one stage, they were reduced to putting in Tellers against an amendment which they had moved and which I had accepted. That was part of the process of trying to block the Bill. At that time, the Government were coping with Treasury objections to the Bill, and Ministers have been working on that ever since.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) for his efforts. He was formerly a supporter of the earlier Bill and we complained about the position in which he found himself on 1 November last year when he had to support a measure deploring it. That was absurd. He has obviously done a great deal of work since then and his constructive contribution to this debate and the spirit in which the debate has been conducted are welcome.

The progress that we have made in the debate owes a good deal to the persistence of all those who have supported it, those outside who have continued to show interest in the subject, those who have continually written to Members and those who have won the support of local authorities and other organisations. I pay tribute to all of them for what they have done.

The Minister said that he wanted to make good use of time in Committee. That is right, and the Government made a mistake last year in not making good use of that stage to put the Bill in an acceptable form. We shall probably have a few skirmishes in Committee and at times we may feel that the Government are pushing a bit too far in weakening the Bill's impact. But perhaps not—perhaps the conversion is more extensive. Some of the issues raised by the Minister and by hon. Members can almost certainly be ironed out in Committee.

I hope that we can make some progress on Northern Ireland, about which the hon. Member for Eltham spoke. Perhaps we can at least have an indication from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive of a time scale in which the Bill's provisions for Northern Ireland might be brought into effect, because the Bill gives the Minister an opportunity to make provision at a later stage.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

For the benefit of those who may be drafting amendments for the Government to consider, may I refer them to the happenstance that, last year, each Government amendment was out of order? Care should be taken this time to make sure that amendments are in order so that they can be discussed.

Mr. Beith

That would be a great help, and I am sure that the Minister has taken the hon. Gentleman's intervention on board and that he, like us, will learn from last year's experiences.

The Bill is not just about energy conservation strategy, although as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and others have stressed, that is needed and the Bill can provide important parts of it. It is also about generating local initiative, enthusiasm and partnerships between the public and private sectors on an informed and cost-effective basis. The very process of gathering information for the studies that are required by the Bill can enable local authorities to harness the enthusiasm of industry, home owners and landlords and contribute to local informed debate so that people can see what could be achieved by investment in energy conservation. If that is carried out locally, it will be the most effective way forward. I think that the Government now recognise that.

We must reduce the demand for energy and we can do that by improvements that enable those who are most vulnerable to have warmer homes at lower cost. The Bill will enable us to map out the route to that destination. I am delighted that it has made such good progress.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).

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