HC Deb 19 November 1996 vol 285 cc821-2
4. Mr. Robathan

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps he intends to take to improve the energy efficiency of housing. [3119]

Mr. Robert B. Jones

The Government operate and support a wide range of programmes and initiatives to improve and promote energy efficiency across all sectors of housing. We will continue to pursue them vigorously.

Mr. Robathan

My hon. Friend and the Department have a good record in energy efficiency in housing. Will he confirm that more than a quarter of the energy use in this country is domestic usage? Will he therefore consider a further tightening of the building regulations with regard to new housing so that new homes use less energy and are among the most energy efficient in the world?

Mr. Jones

If one adds to the energy used in the home for heating and lighting the energy used by machinery within the home and in the generation of electricity, domestic usage accounts for about half of greenhouse gas emissions, so my hon. Friend is right to highlight that point. Yes, we can do a lot with new housing, but the vast majority of housing is older housing, and we must persuade the owners and renters of it to be less complacent about energy use.

Mr. Matthew Taylor

In view of the Minister's comments, with which I entirely agree, does he recall that, in March, the Government came within one vote of being defeated—on a proposal to reduce the level of VAT on energy-reducing materials to that on energy, to encourage precisely the work that he suggests? Has the Department of the Environment made representations to the Treasury to make that reduction in the coming Budget? We were told during the debate in March that the Department would consider such a proposal.

Mr. Jones

The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to anticipate the statement of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor in any regard, but he can be certain that we shall continue our programmes to encourage the extension of energy efficiency equipment and measures in homes.

Mr. Evennett

How seriously are local authorities taking their responsibilities in promoting home energy efficiency? Is there any more that my hon. Friend can do to encourage them to take more action?

Mr. Jones

Many authorities are doing a good job in taking forward the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995. I was fortunate to be able to present the prizes yesterday for the Home Energy Conservation Act programme, facilitated by the Energy Saving Trust with finance from the Department. Other authorities must learn from the best, and that is why we will produce best practice guides as a result of our experience.

Mr. Meacher

Before he preens himself about any improvements, will the Minister say when he will apologise for the Secretary of State's cutting of the funding of the home energy efficiency scheme by fully a third earlier this year, which knocked £31 million off home insulation grants for the poor and elderly? When will he realise that a nationwide home energy efficiency scheme—which we do not have—would save fuel, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, prevent cold-related illnesses and hypothermia and create up to 50,000 new jobs? If he and the Secretary of State do not have the imagination or the vision to introduce such a win, win, win scheme, I can tell him that we certainly will.

Mr. Jones

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that £30 million was added to the home energy efficiency scheme in anticipation of the second stage of VAT, which was voted down by the House—at which point that £30 million fell. The trouble with the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends is that they want to get on to the pudding even though they have refused to eat their greens.