HC Deb 17 March 1995 vol 256 cc1135-82 9.34 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Robert B. Jones)

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 12, after 'information,' insert 'advice,'.

The amendment takes account of the concern expressed in Committee that it should be clear that an energy conservation authority should be able to give advice to businesses in connection with energy conservation measures.

The hon Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) and members of the Committee were keen to encourage local authorities to work constructively with businesses to assist in energy conservation. My hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) seemed surprised that Opposition Members were keen for local authorities to work with the private sector. That is indeed a change of tack from their previous policy but one, nevertheless, which should be welcomed.

The enthusiasm that I detected for local authorities and businesses to become partners in that way was noticeable. However, I pointed out in Committee that this did not, in my opinion, require specific mention of businesses on the face of the Bill, since such an inclusion would carry the temptation to cover just about everyone else as well.

My hon. Friend the Member for Elthain (Mr. Bottomley), with his customary wisdom, suggested that we might consider the use of the words "advice" and "assistance" if they could seen to be adding anything worth while to the amendment that was being considered at the time. My hon. Friend will see that the amendment in my name indeed picks up on part of his observation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), expressed the wish that local authorities should be imaginative about their partnerships, and not just involve the business community. Schools, youth clubs, social clubs and magazines circulated within industry were cited as good examples of the various avenues which local authorities could go down and put to good use in their energy efficiency strategies. That demonstrates that businesses are not the be-all and end-all of partnership approaches in this area, and demonstrates precisely why I was concerned not to single out businesses for a particular mention on the face of the Bill, or to try to produce a catch-all definition without leaving out any group or organisation. I did not think that was the right approach, and undertook to reconsider.

The short and simple reference to "advice" in the amendment is the best way to take the matter forward. Advice can be directed at anyone an authority chooses.

As was rightly pointed out in Committee, businesses may have an important role in the implementation of energy conservation measures. In relation to our national programmes, businesses are involved in a number of ways, for example as approved contractors carrying out work under the home energy efficiency scheme—HEES—or as manufacturers or retailers participating in special promotions for equipment such as energy-saving light bulbs.

The HEES, of course, is working very well, and is administered for my Department by the Energy Action Grants Agency, EAGA, a private company in Newcastle. The agency approves installation companies to install whatever measures are deemed appropriate for a particular property, and has overall control of some £100 million worth of grants with effect from 1 April this year—a 45 per cent. increase on the current financial year—and will continue to add to the 1 million homes that have already benefited from the scheme in the first three years. I was recently privileged to be able to process the one millionth grant under the scheme, which I was pleased went, by coincidence, to one of my constituents.

The Energy Saving Trust, an independent organisation set up by the Government, British Gas, the 12 regional electricity companies, Scottish Power and Scottish Hydro-Electric is managing new programmes to promote the efficient use of energy by domestic and small business users. It has successfully involved businesses, for example, in its low-energy lighting scheme, which resulted in the sale of nearly as many low-energy light bulbs in eight weeks as had been sold the previous year.

Those are just two examples of the type of involvement that local authorities should be encouraging at a local level. Some have combined the enthusiasm of children for caring for the environment with business involvement through a scheme aimed at schoolchildren who were encouraged to persuade their parents to purchase low-energy light bulbs with the help of discounts agreed with the regional electricity company. I am also aware of a local authority that has involved schoolchildren in undertaking a survey of housing stock in its area, with the result being a basic but effective record of the energy efficiency of housing stock in its area.

Adding the word "advice" to the list of things covered by the term "energy conservation measures" in the Bill will ensure that authorities can include advice to businesses—or indeed other organisations which may be relevant in particular local circumstances—in the measures that they list in their reports. Advice may be directed at anyone, and singling out businesses as opposed to other organisations for mention on the face of the Bill might prove unnecessarily restrictive.

There is also no reason why a local authority should not involve businesses in other ways in the implementation of its energy efficiency strategy. As I have already said, help does not necessarily have to be restricted to the provision of advice alone. I also undertake that we shall draw authorities' attention to the scope for involving and co-operating with businesses in the guidance to be issued under clause 4. That will ensure that they consider the potential for involving businesses fully.

It is not the intention that the guidance will list all organisations, groups or businesses that local authorities should approach—that will be something for them to decide—and I would hope that many will already know which organisations locally can provide the best opportunity for spreading the energy efficiency message. I expect the guidance to provide appropriate pointers, especially to those who are less advanced than others.

I hope that my explanation will persuade hon. Members that there is good reason for the amended wording now proposed for this part of clause 1—a small but most important part—and that the amendment will be welcomed by the hon. Lady and by the House.

Mrs. Diana Maddock (Christchurch)

I hope that hon. Members will support the amendment. The Bill presented on Second Reading contained provision for giving advice to householders, and advice and assistance to businesses, so I especially welcome the Minister's amendment, which he promised in Committee would be forthcoming.

It is worth re-emphasising the fact that this is not a Bill that will force individuals to do things. However, local authorities are not expected to remain neutral on energy conservation. They should promote, inform, educate and advise in their attempts to persuade as many people as possible to tackle energy inefficiency in their homes.

I recently visited Sutton, where the council is carrying out infra-red surveys from the air, as other councils have done. Sutton has put the videos taken from the air on display, and experts are on hand to tell people why their homes may be leaking heat, and to advise them how best to tackle the inefficiencies.

That is the sort of thing that we should encourage councils and businesses to do. Incidentally, may I tell the Minister that I have never been against local councils and businesses co-operating? I have always thought that we should promote such co-operation, as I did as a councillor—and I know that many of my Liberal Democrat colleagues do precisely the same.

I hope that we have now killed any belief that the Bill will bring the thermal thought police into people's homes. Advice has always been the key to the Bill's success, and I urge all hon. Members to support the Minister's amendment, which I welcome.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on the Bill, which I certainly support. Indeed, it has wide support. The idea of thermals thought police horrifies us all, but I understand that those of us who wear them will still be allowed to wear our thermals—indeed, they probably save energy from outside sources.

I underscore what the Minister about the valuable work of the Energy Saving Trust. Although it is an information-giving body, what people positively need, whether as home owners or in their businesses, is advice. Information is one thing and advice is quite another. That is not a small semantic point. Those of us who are interested in language appreciate the importance of the difference between information and advice.

I welcome the amendment because it will make the Bill more likely to promote activity, as the hon. Lady and the sponsors of the Bill intend. I have been associated with the sponsors and others interested in the Bill for a long time, and I think that people need specific advice that they can relate to their own properties, whatever those may he. That idea is implicit in the amendment.

I am sure that the House will remember that I had the luck, or the skill—it was probably luck—to inspire the Chancellor of the Exchequer to put an extra £20 million into home insulation during the closing stages of the memorable debate on VAT on fuel.

Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

My hon. Friend was so persuasive.

9.45 am
Mr. Greenway

The extra money will certainly help many people to achieve better home insulation based on the advice specified in the amendment. There is no doubt that people are fairly unaware of the importance of home insulation, and of how it can be carried out in a way that will not bung up their homes.

The other day I wrote to an elderly constituent who had complained about her heating bill. I can well understand that, because she is a lady of over 80 who is not very well, with high blood pressure and so on. She asked me what she could do, and I told her that I had just had the pleasure of being present at the inauguration of an excellent home insulation scheme in the home of her neighbour, Mrs. Dormer, in Greenford road, and said, "Why don't I try to arrange for something similar for you? It is available to all pensioners."

The lady wrote back to say that she did not want her home bunged up with windows that she could not open and doors that got stuck. Proper advice would reassure her that that was not likely to happen. Those of us who have been to see the work in homes and businesses will testify to the skill of those who carry it out and to the fact that it is convenient and does not bung up homes and businesses in any way.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

My hon. Friend will he aware of the excellent ConservEnergy scheme funded in part by EAGA as well as by other organisations such as Esso. The scheme helps in the individual private homes of old people, by fitting draught excluders and so on. I have assisted by putting in draught excluder strips and various other items in the home of a pensioner in Stone, in my constituency, and I can assure my hon. Friend that I certainly did not bung it up.

Mr. Greenway

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. There is no limit to his talent; it is really tremendous. I inaugurated a scheme under the Home Energy Trust for Mrs. Dormer, whom I have already mentioned, and I did take a hammer and put in the last nail which had conveniently been left for me, but I must confess that I did nothing like the scale of work that my hon. Friend has told us about.

Mr. Fabricant

I was wearing an Esso ConservEnergy hat and apron at the time, and one local councillor told me that I looked very cute in them.

Mr. Greenway

My hon. Friend is not only a man of enormous talent and skill—

Ms Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

And a leader of fashion too.

Mr. Greenway

Yes, that too. He excels in every way. I expect to see him running in the marathon soon—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Wearing the hat."]—yes, wearing his helmet and anything else that will enhance energy saving and raise money for good causes.

I must return to the Bill, as I am sure you will require me to do, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I support the amendment. The spirit in which it was moved by the Minister and accepted by the promoter of the Bill gives the House a proper hope that the Bill will succeed. If the Bill achieves its aims, we will have to congratulate not just the hon. Member for Christchurch, the Bill's sponsors and the many people who have thought out the valuable contribution to energy saving which the Bill will make, but my hon. Friend the Minister and the Government on their work in an area in which they are not given sufficient credit. The Government have produced some enormous achievements in energy saving.

I re-emphasise to all concerned in energy saving that advice is easily obtained, and that the Bill will enhance that position. When home or business insulation has been undertaken properly, savings to pensioners, businesses and others of some 33 per cent. can be achieved. I have heard of examples where energy bills have been halved following such action, and that can be nothing but helpful to the elderly and the sick, who have energy needs as we all do.

Mr. Merchant

The amendment is fairly narrowly drawn and that is something of a shame, as this is the first opportunity that I have had to participate in discussions on the Bill.

In supporting the amendment, I must say that I strongly support the thrust of the Bill, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on bringing it to the House. Energy conservation is an interest of mine, and I have been involved in a number of related projects. Only this week I was given second prize in a Waste Watch competition, for which I was given an energy-saving bulb. I declared that there was only one room in my house that did not have such a bulb, and that was why that prize was chosen.

The reason why I like the Bill, which this amendment will not spoil, is that it has a light touch and yet goes to the heart of the problem. The difficulty with the Energy Conservation Bill which came before the House last year—great though it was in principle—was that it was somewhat heavy in practice and application. If the hon. Lady is a member of the thermal thought police, I am sure that she holds a fairly low rank. Her right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith)—who unfortunately has slipped off, no doubt on a covert operation—is, I think, secretly the chief of the thermal police. [Interruption.] I see that the right hon. Gentleman has finished his secret task.

The central theme of the Bill is the need to give good advice. That advice must not just go to householders—vital though they may be—but must be in the form of a partnership with businesses, and this amendment stresses the importance of a partnership with business. The Bill aims to espouse good practice, which all authorities should aim to follow in the pursuit of energy conservation and its promotion.

Partnership has not always been popular. Like my hon. Friend the Minister, I remember when the old Labour party—now long-departed, or perhaps shortly departed—was not keen on encouraging a partnership with business.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

It has departed until after the next election.

Mr. Merchant

My hon. Friend is right. The old Labour party was not keen on fostering co-operation with business, and it even condemned the idea.

I am glad that Labour authorities, like others controlled by the other parties, are now keen to encourage partnership. We have seen partnership for business purposes in the encouragement of enterprise agencies and the regeneration of economic development. It is important that, in putting the message across on energy conservation and ensuring that the best means are adopted, the same sort of co-operation takes place.

The local authority which represents my constituency, Bromley, prides itself on being an enabling authority. I am sure that, in pursuit of the laudable objectives of this Bill, it would want to operate in conjunction with the suppliers of energy services and with suppliers in the area of energy conservation. For example, publicity for the use of low-energy bulbs and goods which will enable householders to operate in a more energy-conscious way could be produced in co-operation with local retailers and providers of electricity services.

The borough has encouraged co-operation with local newspapers in housing projects, and that could be continued into the area of energy conservation. One can even envisage authorities liaising with double glazing companies—this would have to be done carefully—'to promote the advantages of double glazing in terms of energy conservation.

Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to confirm that there is no exclusive need for partnership with business, and that that partnership can extend beyond business. It is important for local authorities and energy conservation authorities to extend that co-operation to the voluntary sector, including schools, youth clubs and magazines which have a great deal to contribute in this regard.

Schools are particularly important, because sometimes the best way of encouraging parents to co-operate in a laudable scheme is to use children, who can be employed as an eye-catching means of promoting an objective by taking it home and sharing it with their parents. There is a lot that parents can learn from their children, and ultimately from the schools. With two young children of my own, I am continually reminded of that.

We must persuade people to spend their own money on energy conservation. There is a role for the public sector in providing grants and loans, but, to a large proportion of the population, they are not relevant. What matters is encouraging those people to spend their money on measures which they might not have thought about otherwise. Amending the Bill to encourage the giving of advice to organisations—particularly businesses—will help achieve that. The message that I am trying to encourage is that the Bill will work best as a partnership. It will work if local authorities and energy conservation authorities work closely with their local communities to put into effect the Bill's objective, and I hope that the amendment will achieve an improvement.

Finally, will my hon. Friend the Minister look carefully at the cost implications to local authorities of the Bill? My authority—which has made it clear that it supports the Bill—is nevertheless concerned about its implications. Bromley is a well-managed local authority, and it obviously wants to take fully into account any costs implications for itself and for its council tax payers, while supporting the objectives of the Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend can give some guidance as to how authorities can defray the costs involved and to what extent they can bring in funds which can be redirected to the costs of the audits that they will be required to carry out.

I welcome the amendment, which will improve the Bill, although perhaps only in a small way. I am glad also that it has given me the opportunity to register my strong support for the principle behind the Bill.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

I have come to the House of Commons this morning not only to support the Bill but to take part in the debate, and in particular to speak to the amendments. The first amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Minister is highly relevant. It puts the onus on local authorities to give advice on energy conservation. It is extremely important in this day and age that we seek to meet our Rio commitments on emissions and ensure proper energy conservation, which has an impact on the care of the elderly. It is important that authorities should provide the advice that is required. The amendment, which adds the word "advice" to the requirements placed on the housing authorities, is highly relevant.

In the borough of Gravesham, the requirement falls on the housing department of Gravesham borough council. That is where the reference to advice is so important. We rightly do not rely solely on the local authorities nowadays to ensure that all that should be done locally is done. We rely on our local authorities to provide advice and act in a co-ordinating function as an information channel. I have looked into the energy conservation advice that is available to my constituents. Gravesham borough council housing department advises people to take up the support and information that is available from a number of other organisations.

10 am

I draw the attention of the House to the advice that can be made available to residents in respsect of energy conservation by an imaginative scheme introduced by Moat housing society, which operates in north-west Kent. I have visited it several times recently. Its care and repair scheme will be of particular benefit for home energy conservation. It assists particularly the elderly to put together all that is needed to improve energy conservation in their homes.

People receive advice on matters such as the priority that they should give to energy conservation, how they can find financial and grant assistance for energy conservation work and, above all, how they can find reliable and effective contractors to carry out energy conservation measures in their homes. One of the greatest problems that people have is finding advice on how to go about carrying out proper energy conservation.

The Moat housing care and repair scheme draws heavily on the Government's home energy efficiency scheme. As we all know, the scheme provides grants to vulnerable members of society for basic energy efficiency measures such as loft insulation, tank and pipe lagging and draught-proofing. It is interesting to note that the resources for the scheme have almost doubled in the current financial year. That has allowed the Government to provide grants to more than 200,000 extra households per year. For the coming year, more than £100 million will be available. That is a 45 per cent. increase on the current year.

When those resources are made available by the Government, it is essential that advice is available to residents so that they know how to take up the resources and apply them to their housing to conserve energy. That is particularly relevant for the elderly, who are more vulnerable than most to the problem of cold in the winter.

Another scheme that should be brought to the attention of the public and, therefore, should be included in the advice provided by the borough council is the neighbourhood energy action scheme co-ordinated by ConservEnergy. I was involved in ConservEnergy week in my constituency late last year. It is interesting to know that, through neighbourhood energy action, the scheme co-ordinates a national network of agencies that provide services under the home energy efficiency scheme. It monitors the effectiveness of the policy framework and identifies good practice. That needs to be put into practical terms for local residents. That is why it is valuable that advice is available for the public and that the Bill will place the onus on housing authorities to provide that very advice.

Late last year, I was invited to see a scheme in Gravesham whereby assistance was given to a blind person in Gravesend. The scheme completed insulation and draughtproofing work on his house. The swork was carried out by a contractor who was a member of neighbourhood energy action and held the appropriate certification of Weatherguard insulation services.

So the Bill and in particular the provisions of the clause will take the matter further. I strongly support my hon. Friend the Minister in requiring the relevant authorities to provide advice on these important matters.

Mr. Fabricant

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. May I say how nice it is that we have some agreement across the Floor of the House. I have to confess that, had I been in the House when it voted to bring television into the Chamber, I would have voted for it. However, if the matter came up again, I would have grave doubts about it, because television has trivialised much of what happens in the House. The more thoughtful debates are not shown on television. So many people think that Labour Members, Conservative Members and Liberal Democrats are always at each other's throats. Of course that is not the case. I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on coming up with this worthwhile Bill.

I am particularly pleased with the amendment. It has broadened the scope of application of the Bill. In Staffordshire, we have many schools which have flat roofs. That is common in other counties. Other hon. Members are nodding in assent. Flat-roofed buildings are prone to losing heat. That puts an extra burden on school budgets. This is an ideal opportunity for the energy conservation authorities to give advice to schools, particularly those which have chosen to become grant-maintained and separated themselves from local education authority control.

The Bill also encourages people to invest their own money. It is an investment. It is a question not of spending but of investing money. It is an investment not only to save on future energy bills for homes and businesses, but for the future of our children and our children's children and the welfare of the whole world. I would love to see similar Bills introduced in other countries. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will recommend in the Council of Ministers that similar measures be adopted in other member states of the European Union.

I have already mentioned that I have taken part in the ConseryEnergy programme. It is an excellent programme. It was initiated by the Energy Action Grants Agency. It enables elderly people to insulate their homes not only to conserve energy and reduce world pollution but to save money for themselves. The Bill is a double-edged sword which works for the benefit of all.

If we are undergoing climatic change, we should all be aware of the measures that we can take to conserve energy. I have worked extensively in northern Europe in countries such as Iceland. I worked with Icelandic radio, Rikisutvarpid, and Islenska Utvarpsfelagid, the independent station, which I suspect I will have to spell for the Hansard reporters. Towns such as Reykjavik and Akureyri are particularly prone to harsh winds and cold climates, although it is not as cold in Reykjavik as some might think because of the Gulf stream.

We are well aware of the need for energy conservation and the measures that they have taken in Iceland are quite trivial in that they are easily undertaken, so one would think that we could do it in the United Kingdom. Double glazing is a recent event in this country and one would think that that would be a sensible move.

The energy conservation authority can advise on such items of expenditure and initiatives. This amendment enables the authority not only to advise on homes, but to advise schools and businesses. One would think that businesses would initiate their own ways to save money and operating overheads for their companies, but small businesses often do not have the expertise to seek advice—there has been a huge growth in the registration of new small businesses—and would be extremely wary about going to a firm of architects, who could charge a huge amount of money for advice on energy conservation.

The establishment of energy conservation authorities throughout the United Kingdom, will provide a one-stop shop of thermal thought police—that is an expression that will he used a lot today—where people can go for advice and to find out how to invest their money most wisely, to ensure that their homes and businesses are insulated and to lower their operating costs.

Few people have any awareness of low-energy lighting, which has been mentioned. Hon. Members will be aware that it has already been fitted to most of the lights in the Palace of Westminster and its outbuildings. The cost of a low-energy lamp might at first seem prohibitive, yet one can regain it over two or three years. For those who have doubts about it, the energy conservation authority will be able to provide statistics on the energy and cost savings that are possible and on the best applications.

I confess that I was amused to hear the hon. Member for Christchurch refer to aircraft undertaking thermal imaging over Sutton. I wondered whether there was a bright spot over the home of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), where I suspect that a huge amount of hot air and wastage might he going into the upper atmosphere, although I am sure that it is in no way a pollutant. But perhaps I misjudge her, and she has insulated her home so that it is especially warm and pleasant.

The Bill is very helpful. Perhaps it is just the first step, but it is a necessary first step to ensure that operating costs are lower for businesses and to promote the welfare of the world's ecology. Extending the first clause with the use of the word "advice" and ensuring that we take in schools, businesses and charitable organisations, as well as homes, is a wise amendment, and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant), this is the first opportunity that I have had to speak in this debate and on the Bill. As he said, the amendment is narrowly drawn, but I want to give the Bill a warm welcome and to congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on introducing it and my hon. Friend the Minister, who has ensured that it has Government support.

The Bill is directly relevant to my constituency. The very name High Peak makes people realise why energy conservation is important there. In that most glorious part of the peak district, we are the highest inhabited part of England. Inevitably, therefore, conservation and energy use issues will affect my constituency more than many other parts of the country. My constituents look to Christchurch as being on the balmy south coast—essentially a riviera-type environment, in comparison with some of the weather conditions that we have to endure.

Buxton is not just famous for its water, but is the name of the place that, on every weather forecast, seems to have endured the worst weather the previous day. It is invariably the coldest place in Britain and often the wettest, but it is also one of the nicest and jolliest places in the country. Therefore, we have a particular interest in this Bill.

Mr. Harry Greenway

I think that you will allow me to say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that perhaps the beer in Buxton contributes to the jollity. They make very good beer there, as we know.

10.15 am
Mr. Hendry

I suspect that my hon. Friend may he thinking of Burton, which is a little down the road, but we certainly add to our conviviality by consuming small amounts, in moderation.

Mr. Greenway

I know about the beer in Burton, but there is also beer in Buxton. If my hon. Friend does not know about it, I will take him along to try it some time.

Mr. Hendry

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Apart from the different forms of liquid that characterise the town, we are a rural community and have many small, old buildings, many of which have ill-fitting windows, where double glazing came very late, and draughty cellars, so we need particular advice and help. The Bill will be of great support to my constituents, as it will ensure that they can live in more comfort and will cut the cost of doing so in the process.

I used to live in a little village called Sparrowpit, which is perched on the hills outside Buxton, and it always struck me that there was nothing between it and the Urals. Having shot across northern Europe, the first place that the winds hit was my back door. It was like living in a sieve and it did not feel as if there were any panes in the windows. However much one bunged up every gap, the wind still came in. On one occasion, I removed the panelling under the sink only to discover that it was full of snow. I took out two sink loads, but no one could find the hole through which the snow had come into the house. That shows that we will be very grateful for the measures in the Bill.

On the amendment, the importance of advice cannot be underestimated and I welcome its inclusion. There are two different aspects. First, advice as distinct from information must be made available to householders as, for many elderly people, information is not sufficient. They are concerned about what they will be doing and about letting people whom they do not know into their homes. The information they get might be fairly general, but they will find it comforting and helpful to know that they can get independent advice through a statutory body.

The most important aspect of the inclusion of the word "advice", and the reason for its inclusion, is that it enables the Bill to go further than was initially envisaged. There was concern that it should be completely clear that an authority should be able to give advice to businesses that might want to offer energy conservation services.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham emphasised, it is most important that businesses work in tandem with the authorities in this. That is the way in which they and the local authorities would want to go forward. The Bill has the backing of the authorities in Derbyshire—not merely the borough councils, but also Derbyshire county council. I am glad that we have managed to find one area—perhaps the only one—on which the county council and I are in agreement. More importantly, it is vital that the authorities will be able to operate in conjunction with businesses and will not have to say that they cannot advise them because they are organisations that will be making money out of advising people how their homes can be better insulated and how they can conserve energy more effectively.

The inclusion of the word "advice" means that best practice can much more effectively be spread among the range of companies that will offer advice, information and services in this sector. Many companies are coming into this sector. In my constituency, they come from Chesterfield or from the north-west side of the Pennines. An increasing number of companies, which are often small businesses—one or two-man or woman businesses—seek to provide services in this sector. The fact that they will not be excluded from receiving advice is much to be welcomed.

There are substantive elements in the Bill to which I shall come later. Suffice it to say that the provision of advice is an important step forward because it goes beyond information. I welcome its inclusion in the Bill.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

Like my hon. Friends, I welcome the Bill and especially the amendment, which would add giving advice to the duties and powers of local authorities in promoting energy efficiency measures. Like them, I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on her wisdom in promoting the Bill, which will, I am sure, find favour in the House and duly become law. I cannot agree with every dot and comma of the Bill; given the circumstances, it would be curious if I did. Nevertheless, I congratulate the hon. Lady.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis)—he is not in his place, but sitting in the Special Strangers' Gallery—on his work in introducing similar legislation. I was a sponsor of his Energy Conservation Bill. He first identified the importance of ensuring that energy audits for individual houses and the advice resulting from that were made available.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry), I believe that it is important for councils to be able to give advice. Although the climate in my area is as hospitable as my constituents, we have many houses that were built in the 1950s and 1940s. They do not come up to modern standards of insulation, and therefore waste energy unnecessarily.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) I believe that our commitments under the Rio treaty are important in reducing CO2 emissions and in ensuring that temperatures do not reach the levels that are anticipated in the next 100 years. Although an increase of 0.3 deg C on average across the world may not sound a great deal, it could lead to an increase in sea level of 6 cm. That could be extremely damaging and, I understand, irreversible.

It must, however, be said that some bodies, such as the Institute of Economic Affairs, have called into question global warming. They have advanced the argument that many of the monitoring stations that anticipate an increase in global warming do so purely because they are in a position different from that of 10 or 20 years ago. In many parts of America, the monitoring stations have been overtaken by urban and suburban developments, which means that there is greater heat retention. When that is stripped out of the equation, it may be found that global warming is not the problem that has been anticipated. Nevertheless, let us assume that it is a problem. The advice which, under the amendment, would have to be given by councils to people such as my constituents is important.

After the Rio summit, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that there must be a balance between people's needs and the environment in which they live. My view is that, when the council gives advice to constituents, people will find that the conflict is not as severe as anticipated. Energy efficiency is also cost efficiency and cost efficiency means greater competitiveness, whether in the domestic or in the industrial sphere. I hope that councils will lay down clearly the improvements in efficiency that they anticipate in their areas as a result of the Bill. In giving advice to local businesses and local people, it may be more difficult than anticipated to be categorical about what the savings might be.

I am pleased that the scope of the Bill has been extended. Clause 2(4) refers to

the extent of decreases in emissions into the atmosphere of oxides of nitrogen and sulphur dioxide in addition to carbon dioxide. I understand that it is estimated that there is a potential 75 per cent. saving in nitrous oxide emissions which will have a significant health effect as well as an environmental effect. Such emissions may be significantly connected with the large increase in reported asthma cases in hospitals and GP surgeries over the past 10 years. It is estimated that, over the past 10 years, the incidence of reported asthma has increased by about 50 per cent., which is remarkable. Asthma appears to be the only life-threatening disease that is significantly on the increase in the United Kingdom. It would be a brave man who did not link that increase to the increasing environmental pollution and CO2 emissions with which the advice from local authorities and the whole thrust of the Bill are meant to deal.

You may recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a debate on the Adjournment about three weeks ago, which I initiated, on the health effects of congestion and the emissions from vehicles. I hope that the Bill and the advice that councils are able to give as a result of it will make a significant contribution to solving that problem.

The second-year report from the Government entitled "This Common Inheritance" says:

Using energy efficiently is the quickest and most cost-effective way of reducing CO2 emissions. I understand from international organisations that monitor air quality that the United Kingdom is likely to be one of the few nations, through the Bill and the significant reduction in emissions that it will bring about, and through the advice that councils will be able to give to local communities under the amendment, that will meet the target.

It could be argued that the target of a 5 per cent. reduction in CO2 emissions may be significantly too modest. It is estimated that, by 2005, Germany will achieve a reduction of between 25 per cent. and 30 per cent. in CO2 emissions and that Denmark will achieve a 20 per cent. reduction. The poorer countries in Europe, such as Greece, Portugal and Spain, may have to increase their CO2 emissions as their economies develop industrially. The more sophisticated and developed industrialised nations may, therefore, have an obligation to reduce their CO2 emissions, thus reducing CO2 emissions throughout Europe as a whole.

Mr. Fabricant

Is my hon. Friend aware that, although 30 per cent. of CO2 emissions come from industry and 21 per cent. from road transport—one might have expected those percentages to be much higher—as much as 27 per cent. of emissions come from domestic usage? Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill is important because it will save energy not only in the home for the sake of home owners but for the sake of the general ecology of the world?

10.30 am
Mr. Coombs

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why the advice that will be given by councils to domestic householders will make a significant contribution towards achieving the target reduction of 10 million tonnes of carbon by the year 2000. Currently, 158 million tonnes of carbon are emitted into the atmosphere every year in the United Kingdom.

The advice that will be given to communities by councils will build upon some of the advice-driven initiatives of central Government. In 1992, the "helping the earth begins at home campaign" pointed out that, every year, the average household emits some 7.5 tonnes of carbon as a result of energy usage. The document "Wasting Energy Costs the Earth", published in 1994, also drew attention to that fact.

I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) and for High Peak about the importance of labelling on energy-saving merchandise, in particular energy-saving light bulbs. As a result of the amendment, individual householders will he made aware of where those energy-saving devices are most easily available and which firms can correctly install them. Their use would make a significant contribution to reducing CO2 emissions and meeting the desired target.

I also hope that councils will advise householders about the home energy efficiency scheme, which, according to my calculations from documents on the Bill available in the Library, accounts for some £102 million per year of taxpayers' spending. Since 1991, that scheme has ensured that no fewer than half a million homes have been insulated.

On 24 February, I visited my constituent, Mrs. Ethel Swift, of 20 Rosemary road. She had been given advice by the council about the conservation of energy scheme through neighbourhood energy action. We watched as people registered by the council insulated her loft and draught-stripped her windows and front door. 1 am sure that those measures will make a substantial contribution to Mrs. Swift's energy needs, so that she will be able to maintain the same level of heating while using far less energy. As a result, her energy bills and the CO2 emissions from her home will be reduced.

As a result of the amendment, I should like councils to advise landlords of their obligations under the Housing Act 1985. The Institute of Environmental Assessment has also stressed the importance of those obligations. It believes that energy efficiency should be part of the fitness standards applied to houses that are assessed for potential grant aid through either the home energy efficiency scheme or more general grant aid provisions.

I also hope that, when councils give advice to households, they will stress the importance of the Energy Saving Trust and, in particular, the availability of local energy advice centres. They have been set up as a result of co-operation between the private and public sectors, the Government, British Gas, regional electricity companies and Scottish Power. I understand that some problems have arisen as a result of Ms Spottiswoode's opinion on the E-factor and whether it can be used, in part, to fund the Energy Saving Trust. Nevertheless, work agreed by the trust—for example, loft insulation—the lagging of hot water pipes, draught-stripping and heating controls has benefited about 350,000 houses.

I hope that local authorities will be able to advise my constituents about the availability of local energy advice centres. If, as I hope, additional finance is made available to the Energy Saving Trust, I also hope that my constituents will be able to take advantage of the advice offered by the trust.

I also hope that projects can be developed, again as a result of the advice offered by councils, with third parties, which could fund schemes such as the home energy efficiency scheme and the Energy Saving Trust. Private companies which put money into those schemes would be able to benefit from savings made by individual householders as a result of the installation of energy-saving equipment. For instance, according to the energy efficiency policies drawn up in 1993, an agreement was reached between New York city and Benec Industries, which installed, inter alia, insulation and boiler modifications on the same lines as those made by the Energy Saving Trust, in municipally owned flats. The savings in the heating bills paid by the city were shared between New York and Benec Industries.

Ms Ruddock

I am absolutely fascinated by the hon. Gentleman's commitment to the Energy Saving Trust.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

If the hon. Lady sat down, we would hear some more about that commitment.

Ms Ruddock

I do not think that that intervention from a sedentary position was necessary.

If the hon. Member for Wyre Forest is so concerned that sufficient moneys should be available to the Energy Saving Trust and shares my concern about the attitude of the regulator about that, he should persuade his hon. Friends on the Front Bench to tackle that problem through the Gas Bill, which is before the House.

Mr. Coombs

It is possible that, as a result of the long, eloquent speeches of my hon. Friends, the Minister will be so persuaded and will talk to his colleagues who are handling that Bill.

Advice is important, but it is useful only if it is specific and leads to action by householders. It is estimated that, on average, it will cost local authorities £40,000 to provide advice to householders. I am concerned that councils will, however, effectively have to guess the potential energy-saving measures that could be adopted in each home.

For instance, energy saving may be all about lagging pipes or loft insulation, but it is difficult to inspect a house from the outside and to guess what those energy savings might be. We must not forget that the Bill does not permit councils right of entry. It is those householders who do not pay a great deal of attention to energy saving who will need such advice, but it is precisely those people who will not be prepared to allow councils in to inspect their homes.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Has my hon. Friend had my good fortune to see aerial photographs of streets from which it is possible to spot heat escaping from the lofts of certain houses that are not insulated? Such photographs reveal that insulation could result in energy saving.

Mr. Coombs

That is a good point.

I return to the advice that councils will give as a result of their assessment of the cost of the energy conservation measures set out in clause 2, subsection (3)(a), and also as a result of their assessment of the extent to which carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere would decrease as a result of those measures.

I ask the Minister through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, how, as a result of spending about £41,000 a year, which is about enough to pay two officers, any meaningful information about savings, monetary or of carbon dioxide, will be gained from councils, given the fact that they will generally do a roadside check on houses which will be very rough indeed. Some householders to whom they will give advice will have insulated their houses. Some will have done it 30 years ago, others 10 years ago. I am at a loss to know how one will obtain a sensible evaluation of the carbon dioxide emissions that could be saved or of the costs of energy conservation measures that could be taken.

It is very difficult to avoid that problem without giving the thought police, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire said, powers of entry into houses so that they can inspect lagging and loft insulation, which no one would want. I question the value of the information that individual local authorities will be able to elicit, and therefore the value of the reports that they will be able to produce.

Ms Ruddock

I do not know whether this is helpful, but I am told that two local authorities, Derby city council and Newark and Sherwood district council, estimated that they could secure the information required, not by the Bill, as it happens, but by the previous Bill, the Energy Conservation Bill—the Bill before us is simpler—so it might cost even less. Their estimate was £50,000 to do a full energy audit per local authority, but they decided to do it on the basis of 10 per cent. of homes, which seems feasible to all of us.

Obviously, many people, when they know that there is a local authority scheme that will prove helpful, would be prepared to volunteer and to allow people to enter their homes on a voluntary basis by agreement because they would understand, as the hon. Member for Wyre Forest obviously does, the great gains that could result from such a process of information-gathering.

Mr. Coombs

Let us hope that people do allow the local authority into their homes in the enlightened way that the hon. Lady has described. Let us also hope that the homes that are inspected are representative of homes in the district, so giving more than a spurious accuracy to the figures on which the advice about which we are now talking is based.

I say to the Minister that there is no value in an exercise such as that unless it leads to action being taken by householders whose energy savings will potentially be assessed. It is my opinion that people do not take any action to improve their loft insulation or their pipe insulation and so on for two reasons. First, they do not know specifically the savings that will be made in their properties, as opposed to the district as a whole, and secondly, they are afraid of being ripped off by contractors who are likely to do a shoddy job.

If the advice that local authorities give as a result of the amendment includes, as in the ConserveEnergy scheme in some areas, lists of reputable contractors who can be relied on to do a good job and to give an accurate estimate of the specific reductions in energy bills that will be made possible by insulation and loft insulation and lagging and so on, it would be worth while. However, the Government need to keep a close eye on it if the measure is to be as effective as it should be.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

I apologise if I strike a somewhat discordant note in the debate, as I often appear to do in the worthy debates that we hold on a Friday morning. Everyone has congratulated the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on an excellent Bill. We all realise the costs that are involved in wasting energy and we know that the country has an energy bill of about £50 billion a year, so we are right to seek ways to reduce that.

What do we emerge with at the end of that long discussion about ways to save energy? We emerge with a Bill that I am neutral about, which I neither support nor oppose, which I fear will be pointless. All that will happen is that a certain amount of money will be spent by local authorities on producing more reports. Do we really need more reports written by more local authority officers?

Mr. Merchant

More paperwork.

10.45 am
Mr. Leigh

The Bill may cost only more paperwork, as my hon. Friend says. It may only cost £40,000 or £50,000 per authority. From personal experience of the way in which local authorities work, the way in which empires grow and the way in which officers are appointed for all types of worthy causes, I doubt that the cost will be limited to that sum. However, that is a central part of the Bill. We all know, as we have read the Bill, that the report by the local authorities shall include

an assessment of the cost of the energy conservation measures set out in it". I am afraid that I hold a different opinion of the way to save energy. It must be left to people. Householders will decide, and businesses—amendment No. 2 is especially about businesses. Householders will choose to save energy if the cost of their energy increases to such a level that their personal circumstances, or the market, or whatever, forces them to save energy.

Many reports—worthy reports, which are detailed in the Bill and in the amendment—are written by local authority officers and however much we talk about a partnership between local authorities and businesses, and however much we encourage businesses to become involved and so on, they are busy people who are already burdened by a great deal of regulation by local authorities, and they will act only if it is in their economic interest so to act. They will act if the cost of energy increases.

None of us liked VAT on fuel, but we voted for it, and one of the reasons for doing so was to save energy and to make people aware of the true costs of energy. That is how we shall undertake our Rio commitments. We shall save energy if the price of energy reflects its true market value.

Ms Ruddock

Most of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues this morning have spoken about elderly women, many of them, I think, in their 80s.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Not necessarily female—mine was male.

Ms Ruddock

Well, elderly people. Some of them had female names, I note.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Well, it just happens that Ethel is a woman's name. It was a Mr.

Mr. Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)


Ms Ruddock

Whether it is a man or a woman, let us say that many Conservative Members have spoken of elderly people in their homes suffering from energy loss, and about the work that has been done to insulate those homes better. How does the hon. Gentleman think that a pure price mechanism, increasing the cost of fuel to households of that kind, would achieve the objectives if there were not information gathering, and advice were not given to help such households?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I would advise the hon. Gentleman not to go too far down that path. I have been very tolerant this morning, but many hon. Members have been getting back to the word, "advice", which has saved them, and saved my legs an awful lot as well. If they can stick formally to the amendment now, it would be helpful to the debate.

Mr. Leigh

I am glad that the hon. Lady made that intervention, because she has led me to the argument that I wanted to make in a moment. You are right, Mr. Deputy Speaker; one can answer that intervention by way of the amendment.

Advice is important, and we all understand that many elderly people need more heat than we younger people need, that they often live in older homes and that we have a duty to help them. That is why I do not oppose the Government's energy efficiency schemes. They constitute action, and that is what we should be talking about.

The Government, whom I support, have doubled the resources available to help elderly and disabled people to insulate their homes. The answer to the hon. Lady's question is that there is nothing wrong in the market mechanism and in intervening occasionally in the market when it does not work with a class of people. What is wrong is to assume, as the hon. Member for Christchurch does, that one can solve those problems simply by producing more and more reports and paperwork, and talking in worthy terms of advice, partnership and so on.

One achieves things in life by doing things. If one feels that the market is not working—if one feels that a class of people cannot afford to do up their homes, and their energy is being taxed more because they are part of society as a whole—one concludes that those people are being placed in an unfair position, and decides to help them. That is precisely what the Government are doing, and what the Bill does not do.

We have heard about the Energy Saving Trust, which is an excellent organisation and a private-sector initiative. It wants to save 2.5 million tonnes of carbon by the year 2000—an excellent goal. That organisation is trying to do something, but what will the Bill achieve? I suspect that it will simply create more paperwork.

Many people in the House, including the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock), believe passionately that we smoke too many cigarettes. Is she suggesting that the way to deal with the problem is to introduce a Bill to give local authorities the power to carry out an assessment of cigarette smoking in their areas? That is not the answer. To stop people smoking cigarettes, we must tax cigarettes more highly. The same is true of drinking or of anything else.

I come from Lincolnshire—one of the coldest counties in the country. We have heard about what happens on High Peak, but when we in Lincolnshire get the east wind whistling off the North sea, there is nothing between us and the Urals. Once, when I was travelling along the top of the Lincolnshire wolds, I heard Moscow radio. I knew from the wind coming in through the car window that it was pretty cold. We know all about the importance of saving energy, heating our homes and why we have to do it, but we do not think that the cause will be helped by a report by West Lindsey district council, my local authority—a small council, which already has many duties laid upon it by the House. We criticise local authorities, but those who work in them say that it is all very well for people down south to talk in terms of large authorities and say, "It's only £40,000 or £50,000." That is a significant cost for my little local authority to bear, and the measure will not help anyone in the long run.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and one that I mentioned in my contribution when I said that action was more important than advice to my constituents when saving energy. In 1993, the Liberal party produced a document called "Taxing Pollution not People", which said that we should end

the anomalous zero-rate of VAT on fuel". Now, that party talks about phasing in an EU-wide carbon energy tax.

Mr. Leigh

We all know that the Liberal party is interested in advising people, but its advice is often different in different parts of the country and on different issues. The Liberals are primarily concerned with making political progress. Conservatives are concerned0 with the process of government and trying to achieve something.

I welcome my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment to his post. He has a long record of interest in such issues. His moderate stance on the subject will allow us to make progress. I hope that when he winds up the debate he will try to answer the issues that I have raised and detail what the Government have done in a practical sense to encourage business and to deal with the problems through taxation or through the Department of Trade and Industry.

I hope that the rest of the debate will not be characterised by a lack of intellectual rigour and logic.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

I strongly support the amendment, which emphasises the importance of advice. I should like to mention a couple of issues in relation to Wales, which apply also to England.

Local authorities will have the power to advise not only organisations in their own territories but organisations on a broader basis. In Wales as in England, housing associations are active. In Wales, they are funded by an all-Wales organisation, Tai Cymru, and in England by the Housing Corporation. Local authorities will have the power to advise and to influence the policy of an organisation such as Tai Cymru. That is currently causing difficulties in terms of constructing houses that are energy efficient.

The housing association grant—HAG—provided by Tai Cymru does not take sufficient account of the need for energy efficiency when designing homes. Tai Cymru recently produced a pattern book for housing design. I am told by housing associations that the book makes it more difficult than before to construct energy-efficient homes. I should like the Minister's confirmation, but I assume that local authorities' advice will be aimed at organisations such as the funding organisations—'Tai Cymru in Wales and the Housing Corporation in England.

Can I take it that the undertakings given by the Minister in Committee will apply to Wales? Will the undertakings given on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Environment apply to the Secretary of State for Wales? Undertakings were given on when the Bill's provisions would be implemented. Will those undertakings apply to Wales? Other undertakings on ministerial guidance have been important in obtaining agreement on the Bill's form. I should like it to be made clear that such undertakings will apply to Wales—in particular that local government reorganisation will not be used as an excuse for postponing the implementation of the Bill's provisions in Wales.

I congratulate, and thank, the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on taking up the cause in her Bill, which is now approaching fruition. It is a tribute not only to her persistence but to her vision, that she adopted the cause in the Bill rather than a less controversial one. It is also important to congratulate the Under-Secretary on his support. The importance of that support becomes clear when we hear some of the contributions that Conservative Members have made this morning.

The Bill will provide us with a UK-wide strategy on domestic property. Although the Bill contains no targets, we understand that targets will form part of ministerial guidance. The Bill is only a beginning: action—implementation of the provisions—is what counts. A framework of planning is essential. When planning, provisional advice to individuals and property owners is crucial. That is part of the process of developing among people a responsible attitude towards energy use.

Implementation of the measures will depend on the provision of resources to enable action to be taken. Considerable public resources will have to be made available if we are to take the subject seriously. The plans will provide a focus. The advice will establish and encourage heightened awareness of energy efficiency—bringing it down to a private and personal level of responsibility.

The organisation Friends of the Earth has recently been encouraging local authorities to adopt a climate resolution, which encourages local authorities and the people within them to take seriously the subject of energy—not just energy efficiency, but energy generally. That will include local authorities encouraging the development of renewable energy within their territories.

The importance of encouraging the growth of nuclear industry has been mentioned. Clearly, we should not adopt that policy, which tends to offer an unrealistic panacea.

Mr. Fabricant

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the nuclear industry, but does he agree that there should still be considerable research into it, particularly into fusion? Does he accept—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying from the amendment.

Mr. Dafis

I shall not say too much in response to that intervention. Huge research resources have been invested in the nuclear industry, and are still being invested in fusion. If we put a fraction of those resources into the development of renewables, we should be making an important contribution to the sort of issues contained in Friends of the Earth's climate resolution programme. I recently attended the launch in the House of an organisation called Euro Solar UK. I commend to all hon. Members the work of that organisation in exerting pressure for the development of renewables, which must go hand in hand with energy efficiency.

It is important to put the question into its proper context at this stage. We need not only an integrated energy efficiency policy but an integrated energy policy. The Bill represents the start of a process that, with good will on the part of this and succeeding Governments, could lead to a general integrated energy policy, which must include a transport component.

11 am

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

I may be last to speak in the debate, but I hope that I am not least.

Amendment No. 2 is a very important amendment which deals with advice. I should like to address the question of the quality of that advice and who will provide it. Unfortunately, the Bill tends to focus on the residential sector, but it is equally important to the commercial sector, because probably more progress can be made in the energy efficiency field within that sector.

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on introducing the Home Energy Conservation Bill

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown), but the Bill does not involve the commercial sector at all.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was about to congratulate the hon. Lady on introducing the Bill and also to welcome the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), to the Front Bench. I understand that this is his debut Bill, and it is good to see him in the Chamber today.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State was Chairman of the Environment Select Committee, of which I am a member, which conducted an inquiry into energy efficiency. Advice about energy efficiency matters was an important element of the inquiry and we learned a lot about the various sources from which that advice can come.

With other colleagues, I was privileged to meet an elderly gentleman in my constituency who took part in the ConserveEnergy scheme run by the Energy Action Grants Agency. As my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) said, real action resulted from that scheme. My elderly constituent received advice about energy efficiency measures such as placing draught strips around doors and windows, installing an insulation jacket around his hot water cylinder and insulating the roof, and thus was able to reduce his energy bills significantly. He said that, as a result, he will be able to remain in his house for at least another two years rather than enter a residential home. He benefited from that excellent advice, and in so doing he saved himself and the country a considerable amount of money.

Hon. Members have already referred to the question of supplying advice to local authorities. I have some reservations about the immense scope of the legislation, and hence the bureaucracy that will confront local authorities. Clause 2, which deals with advice, is very wide in its scope. Under that clause, advice will apply to emissions of nitrous oxides and sulphur dioxide, the assessment of the number of jobs, the assessment of average savings and, as though that were not enough, such other matters as are considered appropriate. A considerable amount of bureaucracy could flow from that.

Fortunately, the saving grace comes in subsection (5) of clause 2, which states:

An energy conservation authority may in preparing the report consult such persons as it considers appropriate. I think that that is the key to the amendment, as it states who should provide advice on energy efficiency matters. As my hon. Friend the Minister will be aware, the Energy Savings Trade Association—ESTA—is an umbrella organisation for 80 firms which are involved in the energy efficiency business and which give energy efficiency advice.

The field of energy efficiency advice is much more developed in other countries. For example, in the United States so-called contract energy management companies provide a considerable amount of advice not only to the public sector but to private individuals. The energy efficiency business is about local authorities and the public sector providing advice, but it also involves individuals because they are the ones who will benefit from that advice.

I hope that the Minister will mention the role of the private sector in giving advice. That is a very important point. In evidence to the Environment Select Committee, ESTA said that it could typically provide advice at rates five to 10 times cheaper than the public sector. I hope that my hon. Friend will encourage local authorities to approach private sector firms for advice when drawing up their energy efficiency plans.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will also refer to the public sector and to the Energy Efficiency Office, which is sponsored by his Department and which has not been referred to in the debate so far. That office is a major provider of advice. It sponsors the Energy Saving Trust, to which several hon. Members have referred. It has a budget of some —15 million to —20 million and it represents one of the best ways of disseminating advice about best practice throughout the country by way of its regional energy efficiency officers.

I hope that my hon. Friend will inform the House about the quality of advice delivered by those regional energy efficiency officers and how they will be able to assist individual local authorities in drawing up their plans. During the Committee's inquiry, concern was expressed that the regional energy efficiency officers network was not so complete as it might be. I am concerned that, if the Bill is passed today, it will be necessary to reinforce that regional network so that best practice information can be disseminated to local authorities very quickly.

I believe that this is a critical amendment. Local authorities must consult the very best sources about energy efficiency matters. The private sector is at the leading edge in providing that advice and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will encourage private sector firms to supply it. There is enormous scope for using that advice to improve the rather rundown, elderly housing stock in some local authority areas.

Ms Ruddock

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope to save both your legs and your voice by confining my remarks entirely to the amendment. I shall not emulate the performances of some Conservative Members whose contributions have, I think, resembled Second Reading speeches.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

How does the hon. Lady assesses the content of the very learned speeches by Labour Back Benchers on this important Bill?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members should settle down a little. The Chair will decide what is in order and what is not.

Ms Ruddock

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The amendment was clearly introduced as a result of the considerations by the hon. Member for Chichester—

Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport)


Ms Ruddock

I apologise. I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on bringing the Bill to this stage.

Mr. Banks

What has that to do with the amendment?

Ms Ruddock

The hon. Gentleman would assist me no end if he could keep his remarks to himself and allow me to speak directly to the amendment.

In moving the amendment, the Minister referred to the consideration that had been given to supplying advice to business. I put it on the record that we are extremely keen that there should be a two-way process between local authorities and business in the collecting of information. There is much that can be gained from business giving advice to local authorities and vice versa.

The Labour party is committed to the partnerships that its local authorities have developed with local businesses. We have seen the positive results of those partnerships and there is no doubt that, as the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) said, there is much to he gained by taking the advice of those commercially involved in energy efficiency. We have no problem with that. My local authority in Lewisham, which has been a pioneer in developing such partnerships, has shown how they can be applied to energy efficiency and savings.

I am grateful to the Minister for saying that, although he would not accept a provision limited to business, he intends to ensure that advice giving and, indeed, advice taking, is more widespread. We support that notion. The Minister states in his guidance that he will not be prescribing the limits or list of organisations, but we none the less hope that he will encourage and support the idea of the exchange of advice, which is be in all our interests.

The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) cast some aspersions on Labour councils in particular. I should like to put it on the record that we are extremely proud of their record and achievements, especially in the matter of energy conservation. Gathering information is essential if a council is to be able to give advice. It is impossible to give advice in a vacuum—information must be gathered on which that advice can properly he mounted.

My local authority in Lewisham has undertaken an energy audit of all its housing stock and surveyed the public buildings in its ownership to identify the scope for energy-saving measures. Those buildings include, of course, schools and youth clubs which have already been mentioned. That work has already been done and we are convinced that the Bill's provisions will make it possible to do much more.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I am interested to hear that the hon. Lady's local authority has been giving itself advice. Was that advice given by its own officers or did it, as I suggested, take advice from private sector firms?

Ms Ruddock

The hon. Gentleman should not be surprised that a local authority is giving itself advice. The Bill offers the important opportunity for local authorities to assess what is required—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman will give me a moment, I am tackling his surprise that my local authority is giving itself advice.

We are aware, and I know that the Minister is, too, that much local authority housing stock, like that of the private sector, is badly insulated. No one denies that. There is a need to tackle the problem, but the relevant information needs first to be gathered. The local authority must advise itself although, of course, it consults experts and makes any advice available to its own officers. Clearly, if work needs to be done, it is in many cases passed to the private sector.

The work done by Lewisham council includes the giving of advice about what is necessary to make energy savings in individual homes.

Mr. Leigh

The hon. Lady has been very generous in giving way. She stresses the role of local authorities, but she must accept that local businesses involved in energy conservation have a great deal of experience that they can offer directly. It is far cheaper and more efficient to look in the Yellow Pages and find the firms which have the necessary information and expertise. Why do local authorities need to advise themselves and produce reports? Surely that adds nothing but more regulation and cost.

Ms Ruddock

There is a good reason for local authorities to advise themselves. If information is to be gathered there has to be trust between public authorities and the people. It is sometimes necessary for people to he asked to allow officers into their homes when assessments have to be made. That is entirely appropriate for the gathering of information.

It is crucial that any advice given is independent; it is not appropriate that advice should be given by people who stand to gain commercially from giving it. The Government have acknowledged that central or local government departments can give advice of an independent nature which people can trust even if, as I said, any action resulting from that is more likely to involve contracts with the private sector. It would be ludicrous to believe that the Labour party does not want partnerships with the private sector. At this point, I may stray from the amendment if I am not careful, but I wish to point out that one of the reasons we value the Bill so much is that it will create jobs, and many of them will be in the private sector.

11.15 am

I conclude by mentioning the well known pioneering work in information gathering and advice giving done by Kirklees metropolitan council. The council has adopted an affordable warmth and energy efficient strategy to achieve lower fuel bills through a programme of insulation, ventilation—the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) would be pleased to hear that if he were in the Chamber today—and heating combined with education and advice. The advice service is available to all residents, not only council tenants.

We support the amendment, which I am sure will be helpful in shaping the final Bill, and we thank the Minister for tabling it.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

With the leave of the House, I will reply to the debate.

I think that I am right in sensing that, with perhaps one or two exceptions, there is a warm welcome for the amendment, and I trust that it is also an energy-efficient welcome. We have dealt with a wide range of important issues relating to energy efficiency because, naturally enough, they have a strong link with advice. It is not terribly surprising, therefore, that we have focused on energy efficiency to a large extent.

I thank the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) for welcoming the amendment. We have tried to work together during the passage of the Bill to ensure that it is good legislation when, as I hope that it will, it reaches the statute book. This was one of those matters where our differences were more apparent than real, as we both clearly wanted advice to be given but not necessarily in an exclusive way.

The hon. Lady touched on the infra-red surveys in the London borough of Sutton, but I believe that a number of boroughs are also involved. That is an example of the practical way in which the message can be put across to people that they are a lot less energy-efficient than they think. It is my experience from dealing with my constituents that people always think that they have energy-efficient homes because they put in a bit of insulation many years ago. They believe that that is the be-all and end-all of energy efficiency. However, technology and standards change, and we need to ensure that advice is kept up to date and that people can take advantage of whatever is available at any given time.

Mr. Fabricant

Just 10 years ago, the advice was that 3 in of loft insulation lagging was sufficient, whereas 6 in is now regarded as the very minimum.

Mr. Jones

My hon. Friend is right, and gives a pointed example of precisely the point that I am making.

I also think that it is important there should be a two-way involvement, as the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) said. I visited Leicester city council not so long ago—I think that it is controlled by the hon. Lady's party—and it was emphasising the way in which it works with businesses and how it encourages them to canvass for work in the areas in which people were more prosperous and could afford to put it energy conservation measures themselves.

That is one of the big gaps in the system. We aim a lot of effort at people who need the help, but it is much more difficult to get the message over to the people who can afford to sit down and write cheques for their energy bills. Trying to run a campaign to advise those people and then get them to do something about the advice will be one of the challenges for local authorities, for the Government and for all those involved.

There are, of course, good local authorities and not so good local authorities, and I am keen to improve the worst to the standards of the best and then improve them all. One of the initiatives we took recently was to invite a number of authorities to seminars—in Leeds and in Nottingham—which were aimed at trying to spread the word, using matrices so that people could identify where they were with particular areas of energy efficiency policy, and gradually to improve them over a period. I was delighted with the enthusiasm that developed among local authorities, which although they may not have been hostile to energy efficiency were clearly in need of advice through exchange of best practise. We shall continue to go down that road.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), who is not with us—no doubt because he has gone off to insulate another home in whichever road it was in his constituency—mentioned his support for the Energy Saving Trust. That was echoed by a number of my hon. Friends and, indeed, implicitly by the hon. Member for Deptford. The Energy Saving Trust is an important element in our energy conservation strategy, and what it can do in terms of advice and in "catalysing" movements towards greater energy efficiency is key.

My hon. Friend also mentioned energy advice centres. They, too, have an important role to play. I recently visited the energy advice centre in the metropolitan borough of Sandwell, in the west midlands. Telephone calls came in from members of the public, and the staff talked people through the problems of their homes and the options that were available, giving advice and sending out leaflets that were tailor-made to those individuals. In that way, it was complying with the spirit of what my hon. Friend was talking about—namely, tailoring the advice to the particular circumstances. I think that that is the only way to get the message across to people with varied house types as to what they can practically do and what the pay-back is.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the home energy efficiency scheme.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is much better for the energy advice offices to give advice direct to individuals, who will then do their own energy saving improvements, rather than local authorities trying to enforce energy efficiency measures?

Mr. Jones

I have always though that advice, provided that people are prepared to listen to it, is welcome to anybody. The energy advice centres are aimed primarily at individuals; we have other mechanisms by which to aim advice at local authorities.

The HEES is an excellent scheme, and it is clear, from what they have said, that many hon. Members have participated in their own constituencies, and that it is a good way of getting over to people the importance of the scheme and is helping to publicise it to those who, perhaps, have not learnt that it is available and therefore have not applied. My only worry about it is that, on occasions, so many of the good and the great are rushing in and out of the houses that the pay-back period must be lengthened considerably by the draughts that are coming through the door as a result of their being left open for photographs and so on. But that, perhaps, is a minor point. I was in the Chamber when my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor announced, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North, the extra £20 million, and I was delighted to hear that news, because it is one of our most excellent schemes, and I hope very much that people will take advantage of it. I also welcome the involvement of private industry with energy action grants. Only last night, Esso presented £100,000 as its contribution for the coming year to the work being done. There is much good work going on, and I very much welcome the comments of hon. Members present.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) coined a phrase, which, I think, is apt in describing the Bill. He said that it has a light touch but goes to the heart of the problem. It is important to have that light touch to avoid what has been named the "thermal thought police issue", which was referred to by many hon. Members.

We have been trying, on both sides of the Committee and now the House, to develop a practical Bill that will result in action, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) said, but to have action one needs a certain amount of information; otherwise, one will waste an awful lot of money through not having the right priorities. If one sees, as I do, the Bill and our energy conservation strategy as being not just about the environment but an anti-poverty strategy, one wants the right sort of information to be able to prioritise—to use that awful word—the investment that local authorities and the Government are putting in.

My hon. Friend stressed partnership with businesses and asked me to confirm that it would not be an exclusive role for businesses. I am happy to confirm that, because the whole spirit of what I was saying was that there are many other people who could be involved, and the voluntary sector is one of the most important of those. Hon. Members will be familiar with the work of organisations like Age Concern, for example, which does a lot of work to ensure that our messages are put across to target groups.

My hon. Friend also referred to the costs of the measure, as did a number of hon. Members. I repeat the undertaking that I gave in Committee that the new burdens procedure will apply and that we will discuss the resource implications with local authority associations. I do not necessarily accept that there is any cost in the end, because from research that we have had carried out, if local authorities put in energy efficiency measures in their stock, it can often result in lower maintenance costs, fewer voids, greater tenant satisfaction, and so on. There are swings as well as roundabouts, but we will want to examine the costs to ensure that they are not disproportionate and that the right outcome is there from the point of view of local authorities and ourselves.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) referred to the care and repair scheme. That is another example, not just of advice but of action, because the whole point of such schemes is that they help to ensure that the proper repairs to integrate energy conservation are used for the benefit of keeping people in their homes who might otherwise go into sheltered accommodation or an even more protective environment. It is a good scheme and I am pleased that we were able today to encourage its continuation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant), with whom I cannot possibly compete in terms of cuteness and designer taste in clothing, made an important point about sharing ideas with other countries. There is a lot of interest in other countries with the way in which we are taking forward our best practice programme and many other energy-efficient measures. Although I am not anything like so distinguished as a member of the Council of Ministers, I will do my best to ensure that that work is continued and that the strategies that we are pursuing are shared with our friends and colleagues abroad, so that we can work towards a global target on energy efficiency and on the reduction of carbon dioxide. If it is not a global target, it has no meaning.

My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry) said how cold it was in that part of Derbyshire. Having visited the area, I know that that is the case. He referred quite relevantly to the large number of older properties in such parts of the country. We must focus our attention on those areas because it is clearly absurd to put the same amount of effort into a city like Milton Keynes, which has a great deal of new property, as into a local authority with older stock and therefore a greater need for improvements in energy efficiency. That is why I was reluctant to see a universal target of 30 per cent. applying to all local authorities, as some would probably need to achieve a great deal more than 30 per cent.

11.30 am

My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs), in an erudite and well-informed speech—he has long been associated with campaigns for energy efficiency—made several points of a global nature. Even if we were to reject the whole concept of global warming, that would not make the slightest difference to the importance of this Bill. Whether we look at the matter from the point of view of an anti-poverty strategy, or simply as not wasting resources and saving cash, energy efficiency still makes sense. Energy efficiency is a win-win part of the environmental debate, and that is why it makes more sense to concentrate on energy efficiency than on many other possible weapons in our armoury.

In an intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire emphasised that a very large percentage of global warming gases come from the home, not just from the use of energy to heat and light homes, but also from the use of other equipment in homes. That is why advice on the energy efficiency of equipment is very important. My hon. Friend also referred to having a list of reputable traders.

There are some areas of energy efficiency where the take-up is lower than it might otherwise be because people distrust the methodology. One of the most obvious examples of that is cavity wall filling. I hope that the manufacturers and installers of cavity filling will take that message on board and develop something like a guarantee scheme, which would mean a greater reputation for what they are doing and therefore encourage a higher take-up.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) asked me about housing associations. He referred to the Welsh equivalent of the Housing Corporation. He will know that, of all the sectors, the housing association sector has the best record in terms of energy efficiency. That is largely because it has the highest percentage of new build. We have encouraged the housing association movement to go for a minimum energy efficiency in new development. Of course, a great deal is happening in respect of older development. One of the benefits of large-scale voluntary transfers is that the money available to local authorities and housing associations has been spent on introducing energy efficiency programmes which are very much to the advantage of the tenants and the landlord alike.

In that context, I refer, as I did in Committee, to the Twynham housing association in the constituency of the hon. Member for Christchurch. I had the privilege of visiting that housing association a couple of weeks ago and I saw some of the excellent schemes. I spoke once again to representatives about their record on energy efficiency. I hope that that housing association will be imitated by others.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North also asked about guidance in Wales. My undertaking in Committee did not bind my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. However, it is certainly true that the Welsh Office and the Department of the Environment are talking to each other about how the guidance can be taken forward. There will be close consultation. The hon. Gentleman knows what normally happens in respect of such matters.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North asked about the effect of reorganisation. As a general point, not just in Wales, but in authorities in Scotland and England, it is not fair to expect authorities to draw up strategies when they face the greatest imposition in terms of other pressures. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will not allow authorities to have very much leeway, because we are anxious that they should make progress on developing strategies.

Mr. Dafis

Therefore, it is clear that local authorities will be able to advise an all-Wales organisation such as Tai Cymru, and require it to ensure that energy efficiency is built into its pattern books. Will the new unitary authorities in Wales be drawing up energy conservation plans during their first year of operation after reorganisation?

Mr. Jones

I anticipate that that would be so. As regards housing associations, we shall want to build on what is already happening around the country. In one excellent initiative involving several local authorities, where they are furnishing local housing association grants for developments, they are holding competitions to develop the most energy-efficient developments on those sites.

Other developments under the THERMIE programme will be so energy-efficient that everything else will be put in the shade. I visited one of those in Uttlesford district not long ago, where I believe that the total cost of space heating would be £25 a year. That is achieved by using heat exchangers on a whole terrace to obtain economies of scale.

Those are exciting developments. Although clearly the capital costs are that much higher, if we can reduce those costs a little and encourage that kind of joint provision, that is good news for future development. As the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North is aware, the challenge is not so much future development as what we do about past development where energy efficiency was not considered.

There is an awful lot of interesting advice around. I opened my post this morning and out fell a leaflet entitled "Bright Ideas Energy Forum" produced by my local authority area. That is an event where people will be able to get together and discuss energy conservation issues and learn from each other. Many private companies are participating in that. My local authority, Dacorum borough council, has been a pioneer in the area, and I am pleased to praise it as an excellent authority in every regard. It has developed a strategy and it has been implementing it and involving the community.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury dwelt on several of the other organisations involved. I was delighted by his tribute to the Energy Efficiency Office. However, he was right to say that we must involve firms that belong to organisations like the Energy Saving Trade Association. We must build on the concept of contract energy management to ensure that buildings are more efficient. If we can attract capital from the private sector, that will make energy efficiency more attractive for local authorities.

We have had a very full debate and I am glad that the House welcomes the amendment. Advice to and from—as the hon. Member for Christchurch said—is the key to ensuring that we succeed in improving energy efficiency.

Mr. Leigh

As I was the only Conservative Member to whose speech my hon. Friend the Minister did not refer—[HON. MEMBERS: "He did."] If he did, I apologise. However, I repeat my question about my local authority of West Lindsey, which is a very small local authority. My hon. Friend dealt with the funding of local authorities, and he seemed to intimate that there were savings that could accrue to local authorities. He will be aware, however, that there is still a cost resource for local authorities in producing reports. Will he give a commitment on behalf of the Government that no extra costs will be imposed on small local authorities such as West Lindsey district council in drawing up the reports which, for such authorities, are a major expense?

Mr. Jones

Much will depend on where my hon. Friend's local authority stands in the pecking order in terms of what it has already done. As I have explained to hon. Members who have taken a long-standing interest in the subject, the Department has developed as part of the housing investment programme allocation system a requirement for local authorities to do an audit of their stock and to present an energy efficiency strategy. Many local authorities will need to do very little in addition to what they have already done. The very best will already be there, and over a period they will simply have to move through the various layers to achieve the energy efficiency savings that we ask of them.

Whether my hon. Friend's local authority is in the good, bad or indifferent category, I do not know. Perhaps he would like to come and discuss that with me and I can tell him, within the privacy of four walls, whether his local authority is with the goodies or the baddies. If it is among the goodies, it has no reason to fear that the requirement will do anything other than enhance its reputation and the energy efficiency of the homes that it owns and the other homes in its area, and win it much good will from people who are sometimes hard pressed by heating costs.

I commend the amendment to the House.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 1, line 14, after 'means,' insert '—(a)'.

Mr. Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss also No. 4, in page 1, line 16, at end insert `, or

(b) a mobile home, that is—

  1. (i) in England and Wales or Scotland, a caravan within the meaning of Part I of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 (disregarding the amendment made by section 13(2) of the Caravan Sites Act 1968) which is a dwelling for the purposes of Part I or II of the Local Government Finance Act 1992,
  2. (ii) in Northern Ireland, a caravan within the meaning of the Caravans Act (Northern Ireland) 1963 which is a dwelling-house for the purposes of the Rates (Northern Ireland) Order 1977.'.

Mr. Jones

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Christchurch has added her name to amendment No. 4. I am glad that the spirit of co-operation that has prevailed throughout our consideration of the Bill is continuing. However, I am sure that all Members present will welcome some explanation of what has led to this definition.

Amendment No. 3 is purely a drafting amendment, and is necessary to identify the fact that the original definition of residential accommodation that has appeared on most versions of the Bill since our discussions started is only the first of two sub-definitions, which enables fuller account to be taken of mobile homes. The substantive amendment is amendment No. 4, which follows up the commitment I made in Committee to examine the best way of incorporating the hon. Lady's specific request to have, within the definition of residential accommodation, a reference to mobile homes.

From time to time, I come across mobile home sites and it is clear, without the need for detailed inspections, that many of the homes on those sites are fairly energy-inefficient. It seems sensible to try to involve local authorities in getting such homes up to scratch, in addition to using the HEES grants that are, of course, already available to owners of mobile homes.

As I said in Committee, I have no objection in principle to such homes being covered, and it seems only right and proper that they should be included in a local authority's strategy. We found, however, that it was not as simple as it first appeared to produce a suitable definition. We also had to consider how best to include such homes in Northern Ireland, where relevant legislation is different from that in Great Britain. Nevertheless, the amendment, based on existing legal definitions, in which the definition of a mobile home is broadly speaking the same as that for a caravan, should meet the hon. Lady's wishes.

The amendment extends the legal definition of residential accommodation in the Bill to include, for Great Britain, caravans as defined in the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960. The definition now proposed covers any structure designed or adapted for human habitation which is capable of being moved from one place to another. Hon. Members may be interested to learn that railway rolling stock and tents are specifically excluded from the definition?—

Mr. Fabricant

May I ask my hon. Friend not about rolling stock but about whether he has given any thought to extending the scope of the Bill to cover canal narrow boats and houseboats?

11.45 am
Mr. Jones

No, I have not, but perhaps during the debate I should. However, I hope that I shall not be pressed too hard to include tents and rolling stock.

Additionally, the caravans within the definition must be dwellings for the purposes of council tax. That will enable an energy conservation authority to identify easily mobile homes that can be regarded as permanently sited, and for which records will be available from the valuation lists.

Section 13(2) of the Caravan Sites Act 1968, which is referred to in the amendment, deals with large twin unit caravans. Those, again, are structures designed or adapted for human habitation, but are composed of not more than two sections and are capable of being designed to be assembled on site, and when assembled are physically capable of being moved by road from one place to another. Whatever the reasons for excluding them from other legislation, it is clearly right that those large and relatively immobile structures should be within the scope of the Bill.

The position in Northern Ireland is slightly different. References to the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 and the Local Government Finance Act 1992 do not extend to Northern Ireland. We therefore had to find some other legal definition which could ensure that coverage extended to Northern Ireland. As a consequence it is necessary to refer to Northern Ireland's equivalent legislation—the Caravans Act (Northern Ireland) 1963 and the Rates (Northern Ireland) Order 1977. These two pieces of legislation provide for exactly the same coverage as in England, Scotland and Wales. I have no reason to believe that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, which will act as the energy conservation authority for Northern Ireland, will have any difficulty in identifying the types of mobile homes that we want to cover.

The amendments should ensure that mobile homes designed for human habitation and used as reasonably permanent residential accommodation are not excluded from consideration when an authority draws up its energy conservation reports. The resultant definition of residential accommodation is, as I am sure hon. Members present will agree, short and concise.

There was a danger of the Bill's becoming too unwieldy, and possibly unworkable, if we had, for example, attempted to list all relevant residential accommodation. The list would surely have produced more lines of text than the Bill itself, and that would have been unnecessary and possibly unworkable, for reasons similar to those cited earlier in connection with the amendment concerning businesses. There is always a danger that specifically naming items for inclusion implies that everything else may be excluded.

I believe that the definition now proposed for residential accommodation is the right one, and should provide an energy conservation authority with absolutely no difficulty in identifying the type of properties to be covered by the Bill. The specific reference to mobile homes deals with a small but important category, and I hope it will reassure the hon. Lady's constituents who live in such properties, and indeed all residents of such properties, that they have no reason to be concerned about how they will fare under the provisions of the Bill.

I commend the amendments to the House.

Mrs. Maddock

I especially welcome amendments Nos. 3 and 4. As the Minister said, I raised the subject with him in Committee and I am grateful for his detailed attention to the matter.

My interest in the subject stems both from my experience as a member of the all-party mobile homes group and from my constituency interest. I have many mobile homes—or park homes, as they are often called—in my constituency. Only last week I presented an award for one of the best kept parks—Oak Tree Farm park in my constituency—and earlier this week I opened the park homes exhibit at the Ideal Home exhibition.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Why, in that case, were mobile homes and caravans not included in the Bill in the first place? Could the hon. Lady also give a measured response to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) about insulating canal boats, and whether they should be covered by the Bill?

Mrs. Maddock

I was surprised that we got away so lightly in the debate on amendment No. 2 when I saw that the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), who usually wants to put a spanner in the works, was here. To answer the first part of his question, the omission was probably an oversight on the part of many people. We tried to get the definition of a residential property right, and I spent considerable time in the Private Bill Office and in talking to DOE officials.

Many hon. Members may not realise how much time and energy is taken up not by the talk that goes on in the Chamber but by discussing with experts the best way of achieving our ends. We have continued to talk about the best way to define residential properties, and I hope that we have got that right now.

The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire may not realise the fact, but I have a special interest in canal boats. For 30 years I have travelled on such boats on many of the canals in this country, including those in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. No doubt it would be most helpful and useful to people who live on those boats if the Bill covered them, but if it would hold up the Bill's passage, perhaps we should leave that for another day.

Mr. Robert B. Jones


Mrs. Maddock

I can see that the Minister would like to comment.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

The hon. Lady will know that, in an entirely different capacity, I was a member of the all-party waterways group. The British Waterways Bill includes provisions for boat standards to be laid down. Hon. Members who are interested in that matter might like to pursue it with British Waterways as a part of its licensing procedures.

Mrs. Maddock

I am grateful to the Minister for that information, and I would be happy to support any efforts made in that direction.

Many of my constituents who live in park homes and mobile homes have problems with ever-rising bills and outgoings of all sorts, despite the fact that mobile homes are often some of the smallest homes. As we are tackling energy inefficiency in the Bill—many of the older mobile homes are among the most inefficient when it comes to energy—it is clearly right to include that category of residential property in the Bill. It also gives a very useful way of targeting many elderly people who are on low incomes.

In many ways, I believe that mobile homes should be easier to insulate than some homes built in traditional ways. I have heard about the problems people have had with insulating cavity walls, and so on. It makes sense to include mobile homes, and they are a useful extra target within the Bill.

I am extremely grateful to the Minister and his civil servants for their strenuous efforts to include the measure. I look forward to continued inventive contributions from Conservative Members on this matter, which is open to a great deal of invention, but I urge all Members to support this amendment for the sake of constituents who are living in the type of home which is perhaps the worst insulated.

Mr. Matthew Banks

I have the privilege to represent a seaside constituency, and many of my hon. Friends will be well aware that many mobile home dwellers live permanently in such accommodation, particularly in seaside resorts. I welcome the Government amendment, and I am sorry that—as my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) pointed out—it was not in the Bill originally. The amendment fulfils the commitment which my hon. Friend the Minister made in Committee, and that is widely welcomed by my hon. Friends.

There was some murmuring by hon. Members following the remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) about canal boats. Although my hon. Friend has a good sense of humour, the fact is that he raised a fair and pertinent point. While many people enjoy canal boats for recreational activities at weekend and on annual holidays, many people do live in them. I recognise, however, the difficulties of drafting an amendment that would include those individuals, but nevertheless I welcome the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister about the efforts that he has made in drafting this amendment. The amendment will cover England, Scotland, Wales and—most notably—Northern Ireland, where different rules apply.

All too often I have heard disparaging remarks—although not in this House—about those who live in mobile homes, but such homes do provide a permanent residence for many people. There are many more people who find that they live in them on a semi-permanent basis. As long as they are covered by the points in amendment No. 4, I see no reason why they should be disfranchised in any way from energy conservation.

The introduction of VAT on gas and electricity—while not done first and foremost for its revenue-raising capabilities, but to cut emissions—means that it is now more important to institute energy efficiency measures in permanent and mobile homes. Without this amendment, my constituents and hundreds, if not thousands, of others would not have the opportunity to be part of the energy conservation schemes which local authorities will be expected to fulfil.

The nature of mobile homes—particularly those in seaside resorts—is such that, while those who live in them may enjoy some warm and sunny weather in summer, they are open for much of the time to the elements and to poor weather. Regrettably, in the United Kingdom—whether one is in Christchurch, in Southport or in the constituency of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie)—we have too much rain. Those who live in mobile homes in seaside resorts can be subjected to wind and, at times, to gales.

The opportunity for those people to have grants to insulate their properties—whether by pipe lagging, roof lagging or draught insulation—is very important. I find it rather surprising that that type of home was left out of the original Bill, particularly in view of the fact that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) suggested that she had spoken at great length with mobile home owners.

Mrs. Maddock

I hoped that I had made it clear that the measure was not included in the first place in a spirit of co-operation and in the hope of getting something on the statute book. Considerable time was given to discussing what the definition of a residential home should be, and hon. Members are lucky—as the Minister said—that we do not have a very long definition. The hon. Gentleman will know that the opportunity exists in Committee to get the Bill rather more as one would want it. That is why I asked the Minister about this amendment, and I hope that it will now get on the statute book.

Mr. Banks

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for clarifying that point. She has conceded a great deal, because the Bill will not impose on local authorities a duty to set out a specific 30 per cent. improvement in domestic energy savings. That is a major concession, and it is likely to ensure that the Bill passes into law. The more advisory approach which the Bill will have—it will not have the teeth which the hon. Lady had originally intended—is important. I welcome the point that she has just made, and the advisory nature of a target of 30 per cent. is particularly important.

To return to the amendment, if we were to leave out mobile home dwellers, we would be disfranchising a significant proportion of the population. While there are relatively few mobile home dwellers in my constituency, those people have just as much right to be subject to energy conservation reports. I welcome the Government amendments, although for obvious reasons I shall not deal with amendment No. 3 which is merely a drafting measure. I welcome the commitment made by my hon. Friend the Minister in bringing forward this amendment which will improve the Bill considerably and which certainly underlines the commitment that my hon. Friend made in Committee.

Mr. Fabricant

My hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) expresses surprise that mobile homes were not originally included in the Bill. I am not surprised. It is most unfortunate that most mobile home owners find themselves disfranchised in so much legislation, including fundamental legislation such as landlord and tenant protection measures. Most mobile homes are not mobile. Many are in parks and do not have wheels attached to them. They are as immobile as any other home.

I am pleased that the amendment has been tabled. I should like to see the spirit of involving mobile homes in legislation extended at some time in the future to landlord and tenant legislation.

Energy conservation is a two-way equation. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, there is the use of efficient products in the home such as efficient lighting, washing machines and so on. We seek to maximise the efficacy of a device while minimising the amount of energy that it uses. The other side of the equation is minimising the amount of heat or energy loss.

12 noon

Those of us who have done our O-level physics—perhaps some of us have even done A-level physics—know that energy, and in particular heat energy, is lost through convection, conduction and radiation. If ever there were a case of a particular environment losing heat through conduction, convection and radiation, it is the so-called mobile home.

A third part of the equation is ventilation. It is all very well insulating a home or mobile home to ensure that energy is not lost through convection. We must also ensure that there is no potential danger to the inhabitants of the home from insufficient or inefficient ventilation. That point particularly applies to mobile homes. That is why the energy conservation authorities could find their work cut out for them when it comes to advising mobile home owners. Such people have specific problems that need to be tackled. It is right and proper that they should be included in the Bill.

I mentioned narrow boats and house boats in an intervention. The matter was subsequently referred to by my hon. Friends and Opposition Members. I find it surprising that house boats have not been included in the scope of the Bill. Hon. Members will know that I have particularly attractive waterways in my constituency. The British Waterways Board took me on one of its narrow boats along the canal in my constituency near Shugborough.

If I may do so without moving too far away from the amendment, I should like to put in a quick plug for Shugborough and the narrow boat waterway near the home of the Earl of Lichfield. It is an attractive area in which to own a narrow boat. The point is that many people live on narrow boats and houseboats—for example on the River Thames. They, too, should have access to the advice which will be available from the energy conservation authorities if the Bill becomes law. Such people have the same problems as mobile home owners.

Another specific point is of prime importance. I have already mentioned the danger to mobile home owners of lack of ventilation. Although many people heat their homes with electric storage heaters or gas central heating, many people in mobile homes and, dare I say it, houseboats and canal boats heat their homes with paraffin heaters. Hon. Members who have ever been on a canal boat, lived in a caravan or been on holiday in a caravan will know that paraffin heaters are potentially very dangerous. I hope that the energy conservation authorities will make a point of advising mobile home owners on more efficient and safer forms of heating.

I will not press the need to expand the amendment to include narrow boats and houseboats. If I did, the whole amendment might fall. That is certainly not my intention. However, just as I hope that legislation in years to come such as landlord and tenant, commonhold and leasehold legislation might encompass protection for mobile home owners, so I hope that the Bill when it becomes an Act might be amended in future to include people who live on narrow boats and houseboats. It is an omission that needs to be remedied. Having said that, the amendment is wise and timely and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for tabling the amendment. When I first looked at the Bill, I was taken aback to see that mobile homes were excluded from it. The Bill has been promoted by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock), who comes from, one might say, the caravan belt of England. Whereas in Southampton there are not many caravans, I should have thought that the hon. Lady would be well aware of caravans and would have included mobile homes in her Bill. She explained that the problem was one of definition of mobile homes.

I notice that the amendment would insert "a mobile home". It is not beyond the wit of anyone who introduces a Bill in the House to put a full stop after "mobile home" and hope that someone somewhere will subsequently define it, as my hon. Friend the Minister has done in an extremely able fashion.

My constituency of Gravesham in Kent is not one of the greatest holiday destinations in the country. Nevertheless, I recommend it to hon. Members, because it is a great riverside borough. We have many historical associations. Pocahontas died there. Charles Dickens lived up the road. General Gordon looked after our fort before departing to deal with other matters in Khartoum.

As there is not a great flood of tourists into Gravesham, one would not at first notice caravans around my borough, just as the hon. Member for Christchurch seems not to have noticed mobile homes around her constituency. As I know my constituency well, I know that there are quite a number of mobile homes—for instance, at Southfields Shaw in the parish of Meopham, where there are sizeable caravans, which, although mobile, are effectively immobilised by the residents.

Residents of mobile homes have considerable concerns about energy conservation, just as any householder does. The energy conservation schemes that we have discussed this morning are applicable to occupants of mobile homes. It does not require a great stretch of the imagination to understand why the take-up of home energy conservation grants and so on is low. Although an amateur in the matter of mobile homes, I have nevertheless noticed that most, if not all, do not have lofts in which owners can crawl around to put down the three inches of material to which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) referred. As my hon. Friend pointed out, we need more than three inches in lofts, which are not to be found in caravans.

On a more serious point, I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to give some thought to applying home renovation grants to caravans. He might consider that in his deliberations and the review of home renovation grants that he is to carry out.

In conclusion, I certainly support the amendment. I admit that the definition is immensely short, in the light of what the Minister said. I, for one, have great confidence in his drafting powers and believe that the amendments that he has tabled fully cover the matter. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Christchurch has followed them up rapidly and given them her support.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Homcastle (Mr. Leigh), the more I hear the mutual congratulation that has been endemic throughout the debate, especially that on this amendment, the more uneasy I become. When I read the terms of the amendment, I also became increasingly uneasy.

My constituency is one of the most beautiful in the United Kingdom. As a result, at the end of the second world war and in the 1950s, people poured out of the black country and Birmingham and took advantage of the lax planning legislation by erecting mobile homes in the Walshes, Little Lakes, Redstone, and Kingsland caravan parks in my constituency and effectively living in them permanently—as my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) said—albeit that they are in the anomalous situation of having to leave their homes for one month in every year to comply with planning legislation. In due course, we must consider that.

It is estimated that there are upwards of 4,000 caravans and mobile homes in my constituency and, although I accept the argument that constituents who live in such accommodation should not be disfranchised as regards their home energy efficiency needs, I am very concerned that the amendment takes little account of the enormous extra cost that will be imposed on local authorities, such as Wyre Forest district council—which is already spending about £2 million above its standard spending assessment and therefore has to be capped—which will have to look into the home insulation and the energy needs of caravan and mobile home owners.

Although he is not in his place, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) was absolutely correct to say that a large proportion of the assumptions that have been made under home insulation legislation, home energy efficiency schemes and the grant regimes do not apply to mobile homes and caravans. For instance, I am told that the maximum grant available for loft insulation under the home energy efficiency scheme is £198.70. Many people who live in mobile homes do not have lofts, so such grants are not available to them. The maximum grant available for draught proofing is £128.50, but that also does not apply to many mobile homes to the same extent that it applies to conventional homes.

I am worried that, within the existing grant regime, there will be no possibility of fulfilling the expectations that will be aroused among my constituents who live in mobile homes about potential energy efficiency improvements that can be made as a result of the surveys. We shall have a triumph of good intentions over achievement.

As has been rightly said, the insulation problems of mobile home owners are far greater than those of people in conventional homes. They will expect something to he done about that. Many of them live on very low incomes and will be eligible for the grants, but they will be told that the maximum grant available under the HEES is £305. Given the amount of work that is required for many of those draughty, poorly insulated and rather elderly caravans and mobile homes, with respect, £305 will go absolutely nowhere.

Mr. Matthew Banks

Will my hon. Friend consider that argument carefully? It seems to me that the amount of money that he mentioned would go a considerable way to assist owners of mobile homes for whom those are their permanent residence. I accept that the Bill will raise expectations that we may not be able to meet—it is a great trait of the Liberal Democrats—but the amount of money that he mentioned would, if it were available, go quite a long way towards protecting someone in a small mobile home against the elements to which I referred in my remarks.

Mr. Coombs

My hon. Friend has obviously not seen the condition of many of the mobile homes in my constituency. I am sorry to have to say that not only will £305 not go far towards producing the sort of results that we would want for constituents in mobile homes but, more fundamentally, the categories under which the HEES operates are not appropriate to mobile homes—for instance, loft insulation and draught proofing.

Mr. Hendry

The gist of my hon. Friend's argument appears to be that because people will not be able to do everything that they might wish with the grants, it is better that they should do nothing. That does not seem terribly helpful to the people whom we are seeking to assist.

12.15 pm
Mr. Coombs

If we approve the amendment and thereby apply energy surveys to mobile homes and caravans, it is only fair on those of my constituents who live in them that we consider the grant regime to ensure that it is relevant to their conditions. If we do not do so, we shall arouse their expectations, and inevitably fail them.

The Minister is slotting the amendment into the Bill very late in the day. Is he prepared to review the way in which the HEES works in so far as it applies to mobile homes, to ensure that it is appropriate and that the overall grant available is sufficient, given the significant energy needs of people living in mobile homes compared with those of people living in conventional houses?

Mr. Merchant

I shall be brief, because some rather heavy weather is being made of this amendment. I can see the reason for it—to enable the Bill to cover as many types of residential accommodation as possible and, if it is to have any meaning, it should be extended as widely as possible. From the point of view of principle, and the technical point of view, it is sensible to include the provision and the proper definition.

Having said that, I hardly think that the next time that the world's Heads of State meet to discuss global climate change they will be exercised by whether mobile homes in Britain are fully insulated. I doubt that it makes that much difference to total carbon dioxide emissions.

As for the cost of including mobile homes in the assessments that local authorities will have to carry out, I hardly think that that will make much difference, either. Most of the surveys carried out under the provisions of the Bill will be based on samples. I imagine that the marginal cost of including mobile homes in that sample is so minimal as not to show on any set of accounts.

I have two brief reasons for supporting the amendment. The first is one that some hon. Members have mentioned, but it deserves repetition. Mobile homes are some of the most energy-wasteful types of residence around. Many are old and need to be examined for the sake of the occupants to ensure that the most modern systems are in place. It need not necessarily cost a lot of money to put into effect remedial work on mobile homes and to bring about a considerable saving in energy costs.

That leads me naturally on to the second point, which is that some of the people who live in mobile homes are among the least well-off in our community. They are the fuel poor in many cases and the elderly, who need greater heat and are therefore paying proportionately far more than they need to, to heat themselves. For that reason, it is important to include mobile homes in the scope of the Bill. Clearly, those people, for their own good, need the best help, advice and remedial measures available to improve their standard of living.

Mobile homes are included in the energy efficiency scheme so it seems sensible that they should be included in the Bill. There needs to be a clear definition of mobile homes because we do not want to include people's holiday caravans; that would be going into the realms of the absurd. The definition sensibly draws a line between a mobile home that is a residence and one that is not. For those reasons, I support the amendment, and I hope that it is incorporated in the Bill.

Mr. Leigh

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs), I think that the amendment, although sensible in itself, begins to shed some true light on the Bill. It is a perfectly unexceptionable Bill. It is a Bill about good intentions, but it will achieve virtually nothing. That can be seen in terms of mobile homes. My hon. Friend made an excellent speech, in which he explained some of the problems that will occur, especially with regard to mobile homes.

I represent a rural constituency in quite a nice part of the country where there are many mobile homes, so I am well aware of the problems. There are mobile homes especially in sites along the River Trent, around Torksey, which tend to be newer mobile homes. At Binbrook on the Wolds, near where I live, there is a large site for mobile homes; some are quite old. As my hon. Friend said, some of the insulation problems of the old mobile homes are great. People do not have to produce a great deal of heat to keep themselves cosy in their mobile home; they are not heating the atmosphere to any great extent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) said, the Heads of State at Rio will not be very concerned about the heat produced. However, an awful amount of heat is being wasted.

I can imagine the officials in West Lindsey district council, to whom I have referred several times, racking their brains. How could they have the expertise or knowledge, without expending considerable resources, to determine how to solve the problems of mobile home dwellers in Binbrook, who have homes where draughts come in and out? Even if the officials did determine how to solve the problems, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest asked, what grants would be available? By definition, none of the mobile homes has a loft, a point that has been made once or twice in this short debate.

Motions will be gone through at the guild hall in West Lindsey. Reports will be written and committees will sit. Many of my mobile home owners are on low incomes. If they were not on low incomes, they would presumably live in a proper home; I am not trying to denigrate mobile homes. However, many people who live in mobile homes would rather live in a proper home. Other mobile home dwellers, especially around Torksey, are retired people who live there for two or three months a years. Mobile homes are a cheap form of accommodation in the summer months. Retired people can then spend time in the south of Spain in the winter. It is very pleasant. Such people will not be very worried about what the worthy officials in West Lindsey are saying as they produce their earnest reports which, no doubt, will gather dust. Even if the reports suggest anything useful, grants will not be available to do anything very useful.

We go round in circles. We shall end up with a Bill which the House will pass, presumably, in a couple of hours after we have concluded lengthy discussions on it. Nothing very useful will be done for the poor people sitting in draughty mobile homes in Binbrook.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

My first point relates to guidance under clause 4. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister is aware that the building regulations are about to be amended so that the builder or architect of all new houses will be required to furnish an efficiency rating—a standard assessment procedure or SAP rating—to which the other forms of energy efficiency scales can be converted.

There is, however, no such requirement for caravans. That is an omission. When one buys a new mobile home, one will not be able to get any idea of its energy efficiency. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider, when he issues guidance to local authorities, whether they could give an idea of the scale of energy efficiency that mobile homes should be expected to reach. Clearly, they will not be able to reach the same standard as domestic dwellings. It might, however, be useful for my hon. Friend to say what standard he expects.

Mr. Fabricant

Does my hon. Friend think that there is a corollary here? My hon. Friend the Minister spoke about the British Waterways Board possibly setting down standards and grading the energy efficiency of canal boats and houseboats. Could there not be a similar scheme, as my hon. Friend said, for mobile homes?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I am grateful for that intervention because it brings me to my second point—the question of canal boats. I was a member of the Committee which sat for well over a year studying the British Waterways Bill. As my hon. Friend the Minister made clear, the Committee spent days and weeks on the question of design standards. One of the things about canal boats about which the Committee was concerned—this applies to caravans as well—was fire safety. It would be remiss of us, when debating the amendment at such length, not to mention fire safety. The temptation in energy efficiency terms may be to seal or block windows so that they cannot be opened. That could create a considerable fire hazard—

Mr. Fabricant

And fumes.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

As my hon. Friend says, fumes are also a problem. If there is no adequate ventilation in a caravan or canal boat, there can be a build-up of carbon monoxide and people can be poisoned and killed while they sleep. There have been numerous instances. Fire safety is important. A balance must be struck between energy efficiency and fire safety in mobile homes.

My local authority has taken a rigorous attitude to fire safety in mobile homes, much to the distress of many of my constituents who have added porches and wooden garden sheds. My hon. Friend the Minister will need to give guidance to local authorities about the level of energy efficiency that they would expect for mobile homes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) commented on the level of grants available for energy efficiency schemes. Although £300 may not seem a lot of money in terms of energy efficiency measures, some measures that can be taken have a dramatic effect for a fairly cheap price. For example, an insulation jacket on a hot water cylinder can dramatically cut the energy costs of heating water.

I plead with my hon. Friend not to be too dismissive of the small levels of grant available, because for those living in the worst conditions in mobile homes, or in older housing stock, such grants can be a lifeline. I thoroughly endorse the home energy efficiency scheme and I also praise my right hon. Friend for extending that scheme. I hope that some mobile home owners will be able to take advantage of it.

Mr. Hendry

The outside world looking in on our debate today would be bemused and, indeed, impressed by the extent to which hon. Members can talk about mobile homes, narrow boats and other such places where people live. Perhaps the most useful fact gleaned this morning is that General Gordon started his life and Queen Pocahontas ended her days in mobile homes in Gravesend. Hon. Members may not previously have been aware of that.

The key to the amendment is that there is a fundamental difference between those homes that are relatively immobile and those that are mobile. It is reasonable to extend the provisions of the Bill to cover those that are relatively immobile and are likely to be permanent homes, but it is not reasonable to extend it to cover those homes that are likely to move round all over the place. In that second category I include not just general caravans—there is no reason for the Bill to apply to them—but canal boats. In that sense, I must disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant).

If the Bill relates to permanent housing stock, some people may live on a canal boat permanently. There is perhaps a difference perhaps between a houseboat and a canal boat. Those which are predominantly used for tourism and leisure and which go up and down canals during the day are not lived in; there is therefore no reason why they should be covered by the Bill.

12.30 pm
Mr. Fabricant

I do not agree with the logic of my hon. Friend's argument that a mobile home may not be a permanent one. Some people live permanently on canal boats. What is more relevant to the amendment, Romanies, travellers or whatever they choose to call themselves, live permanently in caravans, but yet are mobile. Is my hon. Friend suggesting, that although those people live permanently in such homes, they should not be included within the scope of the Bill?

Mr. Hendry

A practical difficulty arises because we are considering the requirement of a duty on a local authority. A canal boat or a caravan, which are genuinely mobile, can be easily moved, so it is difficult to expect a local authority to give any guidance on the insulation of such dwellings. One day such a home could be in that authority's patch; the next day it could be 100 yards outside it and the following week it could be halfway around the country.

Mr. Leigh

One of the problems with the Bill is that resources are not available for its purpose. The House would not support a general audit of individual houses, mobile homes, canal boats or whatever, so only general samples will be taken. I do not believe that a local authority could possibly know where my hon. Friend's canal boat was at any time. The samples taken will be so general and the information gathered so generalised that I suspect that the information received by the local authority, and therefore the information dispersed by it, will be fairly valueless.

Mr. Hendry

My hon. Friend has made my point far more eloquently and less confusingly than I had tried to do. Houseboats and canal boats should be excluded from the scope of the Bill because they can move round all over the place. Mobile homes can be included within the Bill because, by their very nature, they will not change site on every other day of the week. A fundamental difference can be made between those types of dwelling.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

My hon. Friend is right to say that the key point is the mobility of caravans and canal boats, should it be deemed to include them within the Bill. The Private Bill Committee considering the British Waterways Bill spent weeks and weeks trying to tighten the licensing system to differentiate precisely between houseboats and pleasure boats. Does my hon. Friend agree that my hon. Friend the Minister could deal with that difference in guidance under clause 4 to include houseboats which are static? In certain parts of London and elsewhere, many people live in such boats permanently, some of them in pretty lowly conditions.

Mr. Hendry

I hope that they are not too lowly, which would presumably mean that they have sunk. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will bear my hon. Friend's point in mind when he responds to the debate.

Mr. Fabricant

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his generosity in giving way. I agree with my hon. Friends that it would be difficult, indeed impossible, for a local authority to conduct an audit of mobile homes, whether they are located on canals, rivers or on land. Surely the main function of the energy conservation authority would be to act as a source of information to which a home owner could go? It is therefore not primarily a burden on the authority to seek out the home owner; it is the home owner who will seek out the authority. Therefore, the restriction to which my hon. Friend referred would not apply.

Mr. Hendry

Nevertheless, there is a difficulty. The owner of the said houseboat, having moved from one council to another council, goes into the council's office the following week, having been into one in a different authority the week before, and asks for some advice. One cannot give people the right to travel throughout the country, visiting every local authority, asking for advice about insulating their houseboat or caravan and asking for a grant to improve the insulation.

Mr. Fabricant

Why not?

Mr. Hendry

Because the owner would obtain £305 from Mid-Staffordshire and then travel a bit further along the canal and obtain a £305 grant from another council, and would obtain £305 from every authority that has a canal in the country. That becomes unworkable. I am sure that my hon. Friend, with his traditional wisdom, will understand that as he reflects on the debate.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) has misunderstood the position. The licensing provisions of British Waterways are clear. A boat that is static and is used for full-time residential use is a houseboat; a canal boat that moves is a pleasure boat. There are two different licensing systems.

Mr. Hendry

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that clarification.

There is a second key aspect to the amendment. The Bill, if it is to be relevant, must relate to what is appropriate housing and appropriate accommodation in different parts of the country. For reasons that I outlined earlier, it becomes evident that we shall not have many mobile homes in High Peak because the hypothermia will be too great, and that there are other parts of the country, such as Christchurch, where a mobile home is a much more favoured form of accommodation. If the Bill is to be applicable to different parts of the country, it is right that what is a typical form of accommodation in each place should be incorporated in the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Minister, when replying to the debate about amendment No. 2, said that I was right to note that, in my constituency, there are many small, old houses which, by their nature, will be draughty. He said that that was one of the reasons why the Bill would be important to High Peak. If that is what makes it important to High Peak, the fact that there are many mobile homes in other constituencies in other parts of the country is a reason why they should be incorporated, to ensure that the Bill is relevant to them.

I regret having to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs). My hon. Friend is usually a beacon of common sense and good judgment. This morning he has strayed a little bit from that. His argument that one should not make advice available to people because the grant has been set at a level that will not enable them to do everything is fundamentally flawed.

The £305 to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest referred is the maximum for any form of accommodation, and that £305 will do much more in helping in the insulation of a mobile home, to make a much more fundamental difference to the quality of life of the people living there than it could if it were spent on insulating a two or three-bedroomed house. It is fundamentally wrong to rule people out on the grounds that they would not be able to do all the work they wish, because it means that many people who can benefit from the grant system would not be able to do so.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

I should make it plain, in the nicest possible way, that what may be flawed is the analysis of my argument by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry). My argument was not that we should reject amendment No. 3, but that, if we make it, there is every reason to say that the HEES should be reconsidered, in terms of the maximum provision that it makes, given the greater needs that the hon. Gentleman has identified for people living in mobile homes and caravans so far as insulation is concerned, and in terms of the detail of its operation. For instance, we mentioned loft insulation and discussed whether that was appropriate for people who live in mobile homes, in which lofts are often significant by their absence.

Mr. Hendry

Self-evidently, if there is no loft, one should not be given loft insulation grants—although undoubtedly there will be Labour authorities around the country who will grant them, because they have provided money for repairing flats that had been knocked down years previously. However, that is in the ambit of local government.

But I think that my hon. Friend's argument remains incorrect. I would be surprised if he were calling for an increase in Government expenditure to extend the home energy efficiency scheme. He is always a beacon of common sense, he is also always a guardian of public expenditure. I do not believe that he would push for a massive increase to extend the scheme—

Mr. Coombs


Mr. Hendry

My hon. Friend may be about to correct me.

Mr. Coombs

I entirely understand my hon. Friend's point, but if he looks at the categories available for grant under the scheme, he will see that the scheme applies less potently to people in mobile homes and caravans than to those with conventional houses. We have already agreed on loft insulation; it may well be that the lagging of hot water tanks would be relevant to both sorts of homes, but to a lesser extent to mobile homes. Draught stripping and corking, and improved heating controls, may apply to both sorts of homes. What is not included in the list, but would be needed in mobile homes, is cavity wall insulation. That is most important in a mobile home but is not, as I understand it, allowed for in the home energy efficiency scheme.

Mr. Hendry

I understand my hon. Friend's point. The key is that the grant can make life significantly more comfortable. It can be used to insulate doors and windows to prevent a significant amount of the heat loss that would otherwise occur. The £305 can make a significant contribution to, or cover the full cost of, such work. I accept my hon. Friend's point that the amount will not cover everything, but to suggest that we should not agree to the amendment because it would not allow for everything would be wrong. I understand my hon. Friend's point and I hope that we have, as ever, established some clarity and cohesion between the two of us.

Mr. Fabricant


Mr. Hendry

I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) wishes to make yet another minor intervention.

Mr. Fabricant

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way to me again. I want to clarify two points that I raised in my earlier interventions. My hon. Friend has said that my argument that a mobile home—albeit a permanent dwelling—should not be included within the scope of the Bill is because a mobile home owner would be able to travel from area to area—my hon. Friend is shaking his head in disagreement, but I think that if he checks Hansard he will see that that is precisely what he said—to obtain grants from different authorities. But clause 6(1) of the Bill states:

Nothing in this Act shall be taken as conferring—

  1. (a) any power to make grants or loans;
  2. (b) any power of entry"
Since my earlier interventions when I was stunned into silence by my hon. Friend's reply, which was as erudite as ever—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. I am stunning the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) into silence now, as his intervention is far too long. I should also prefer to see the hon. Gentleman's front rather than his back.

Mr. Hendry

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for bringing us back to order.

The point that I was making and which my hon. Friend appears to have misunderstood is that there is a fundamental difference between those homes that are relatively immobile and those which, by definition, are wholly mobile. It is right to differentiate between the two. I believe that those homes which the amendment classifies as mobile homes are pretty static and unlikely to be moved without significant effort—unlike canal boats, which can be moved around the country at will.

We have had a full debate on the subject, which I have pushed significantly further than I intended due to the interventions to which I have sought to respond. I shall leave my contribution there.

Ms Ruddock

I was inclined at the start of the debate not to speak in it, but simply to support the amendment. Clearly, on grounds of social equity, people living in what we all consider to be permanent mobile homes should he entitled to the same services, attention and consideration as those living in more traditional structures. Having heard the debate and the many exchanges between Conservative Members, I feel inclined to say a few words.

I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify the sort of information and advice that he believes it will be possible to give to mobile home owners under the Bill's provisions. If people who live in mobile homes are encouraged to think about home insulation and energy efficiency, they may do work themselves which will affect their safety. For example, they may create a fire risk. Local authorities must provide expert advice and gather information about mobile homes because generally they will have little knowledge of the condition of mobile homes in their areas.

My constituency is in the heart of the inner city, where there are only a small number of mobile homes. However, when I lived in the Newbury constituency a significant number of people lived in that kind of accommodation.

Mr. Hendry

On Greenham common?

12.45 pm
Ms Ruddock

I assure the Minister that I am not referring to those who were camped on Greenham common in tents or in other accommodation. I visited many of the people who lived in mobile homes in designated areas and I became aware of the poor levels of insulation in those dwellings. Many such people had low disposable incomes and were deeply concerned about the high fuel charges that they were forced to pay.

Proper attention must be given to those who live in mobile homes. Local authorities must understand their peculiar situation and they must provide expert advice to allow those people to join in the existing energy efficiency schemes or those which may be introduced in the future.

I suspect that it may be more difficult to provide the appropriate assistance to those people. However, as a number of Conservative Members have said, we should not draw back from providing even a little advice and assistance under the Bill.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

With the leave of the House, I shall speak again.

In a sense, this debate is a re-run of parts of the previous debate. There was no shortage of advice offered to me, to the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) or to those who will be affected by the amendment. As the hon. Lady was in and out of the Chamber during the debate, I must inform her that, in addition to her constituency being described as the "Riviera of England", it was called the "caravan belt of England". In the next debate it will no doubt be described as the "Athens of the Dorset coast", or something equally excessive.

The hon. Lady knows that energy conservation is an important issue for those who live in mobile homes. I have enjoyed a long association with the Beech Park site at Wigginton and I am the honorary president of its residents association. I enjoy nothing more than attending the local dance at the Tring football club when I am able to do so.

Quite a number of elderly people and those on low incomes settle in mobile home parks, perhaps as a result of divorce or bereavement, and we are anxious to see practical advice and assistance provided to them. The hon. Member for Deptford asked me what sort of advice would be provided. Of course, there will be a range of advice—some of which can be provided at no cost.

For example, advice about closing curtains at night applies to those who live in mobile homes and permanent dwellings. I keep ramming home that point, but I still see large numbers of uncurtained windows at night. Advice can be provided about energy efficient equipment that people can buy. The home energy efficiency scheme applies equally to mobile home owners and to those who live in permanent structures.

Mobile home owners can take advantage of that scheme in the form of draught proofing and tank lagging. I accept that, as they do not have lofts, they cannot take advantage of loft insulation schemes. However, I am happy to review the HEES scheme to see whether other appropriate measures might applied to mobile homes, whose needs are different from those of other dwellings.

I have had discussions with a number of local authorities which are concerned about the concentration of mobile home sites in their areas. In the context of our overall review of home renovation policy, I shall also re-examine the minor works assistance grants to see whether they are relevant to the problems raised by many hon. Members.

We should not labour under the misapprehension that all mobile homes are in seaside towns. The hon. Member for Deptford said that there were one or two in her constituency. They are, indeed, widely scattered around the country but nothing in the Bill affects the planning regime. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) that it is in no sense a separate recognition of the status of such homes. However, I think that hon. Members generally believe that those who have mobile homes as their permanent residence should be able to get advice and assistance.

I now deal with boats, in which of course I have an interest. My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) hit the nail on the head when he referred to fire safety standards and the licensing regime applied by British Waterways to boats on its waters. That system is, of course, replicated on other waterways.

I do not think that most canal boats are energy inefficient because of their wooden structure and the fact that their windows are small in comparison with the general surface area. I suspect that they might turn out to be more energy efficient than many permanent and non-moored homes. In any case, it is simply not possible to apply the Bill's provisions to them. How is a local authority to draw up a strategy for boats which might well move from place to place during the year? When they retire, many pensioners choose to spend a few years sailing around the country, spending a few weeks here and there. There are practical difficulties in including boats in the Bill's provisions.

In general, the House has welcomed the inclusion of mobile homes. I hope that what I have said about the grant regime will have assisted hon. Members to develop an enthusiasm that some did not have before and a belief that the Bill is about achievement, not fine words. That has always been my approach to the Bill. I told the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) some time ago that I hoped to do better than his Bill, and that is what we are trying to do.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 4, in page 1, line 16, at end insert ', or

(b) a mobile home, that is—

  1. (i) in England and Wales or Scotland, a caravan within the meaning of Part I of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 (disregarding the amendment made by section 13(2) of the Caravan Sites Act 1968) which is a dwelling for the purposes of Part I or II of the Local Government Finance Act 1992,
  2. (ii) in Northern Ireland, a caravan within the meaning of the Caravans Act (Northern Ireland) 1963 which is a dwelling-house for the purposes of the Rates (Northern Ireland) Order 1977.'.—[Mr. Robert B. Jones.]

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