HC Deb 27 February 1996 vol 272 cc713-4
11. Ms Ruddock

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what recent representations he has received regarding domestic energy conservation measures. [15497]

Mr. Robert B. Jones

We have recently widened the formal arrangements for dialogue between the energy efficiency industry and Ministers, and I met representatives of the industry on 20 February. We have received to date 119 responses to our consultation on guidance to the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995. We have also received recent representations on our successful home energy efficiency scheme.

Ms Ruddock

How can the Government still claim to be in favour of sustainable development when they have cut by one third the modest home energy insulation programme, which conserves energy and reduces CO, emissions? Is he aware that the number of backlog applications from people who are poor, old and cold is approaching 250,000, and that 1,500 jobs will be lost because of the cut made by the Secretary of State? Will the Minister now reinstate that £31 million, or does he say one thing and do another?

Mr. Jones

If anyone said one thing and did another it is the hon. Lady, because although she is fond of the scheme now, under the Labour Government there was no such support for energy conservation. Judging by what she says, I suspect that she would take an axe to the scheme even now. I have explained to the House several times that £30 million was added to the budget for the scheme in anticipation of the second stage of VAT. That was voted down by the House, so of course the VAT compensation package also fell.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Will my hon. Friend confirm that home energy efficiency schemes save individual households as much as 33⅓ per cent. on their fuel bills? Would it not be a long-term investment of the soundest kind, both for the nation and for the individual, if the scheme were further promoted as soon as it is possible to do so?

Mr. Jones

Indeed, my hon. Friend is right—and of course, even with the changes that we have made, more people will benefit. Those who do not qualify for free fitting of insulation will receive a 25 per cent. discount, which is a substantial incentive for people to adopt such measures in their homes.

Mr. Dafis

The wreck of the Sea Empress has many lessons to teach us, one of which is that we must reduce our dependence on burning fossil fuels. Is not energy efficiency the first priority? How can the Government claim to be serious about the matter when they are cutting the home energy efficiency scheme budget by 30 per cent., and when the Energy Saving Trust will have to make do with £25 million for two years rather than the £350 million that it expected? Is that not a terrible indictment of the Government's lack of commitment and seriousness on the matter?

Mr. Jones

The hon. Gentleman is certainly right that energy conservation is extremely important in tackling environmental problems, and it is also one of the most cost-effective ways of doing so. If I had to name the worst enemy of progress, it would be the complacency of the British public, and that is difficult to address.