HC Deb 03 February 1998 vol 305 cc830-1
6. Sir Robert Smith

What action the Government are taking to reduce fuel poverty. [24893]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher)

We have cut value-added tax on fuel to 5 per cent., and pensioner households will get extra help with their heating costs this winter and next. This year, at least 400,000 low-income households should benefit from the home energy efficiency scheme.

Sir Robert Smith

I thank the Minister for his answer. Has he considered the role that the environment task force can play in trying to improve energy efficiency? To that end, what efforts is he making to ensure that people receive not only money for the labour, but cash towards the cost of the materials required? The labour in itself will not make a house more energy-efficient.

Mr. Meacher

We are indeed looking to the environment task force, under the new deal, to generate energy-efficiency projects for the fuel poor. The hon. Gentleman is right: the grants that we will provide are intended not simply to ensure that training is provided, or indeed that payments can be made to managers and contractors, but to cover payments for the equipment and plant that may be necessary. We have been examining the matter seriously, and I think that when the hon. Gentleman looks at the final figures he will see that we have taken it fully into account.

Mr. Ruffley

Will the Minister explain why Ministers talked out the Cold Weather Payments (Wind Chill Factor) Bill, a private Member's Bill? Does he understand how disgusted old-age pensioners are in my county at the Government's actions in connection with cold weather payments?

Mr. Meacher

Let me make it very clear that we have already taken substantial action to assist pensioners with heating costs this winter and next winter, and that, for the period after that, we will—[Interruption.] I hear exactly what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Perhaps he could just listen for a moment and he might learn a little.

In the period after that two years, we intend to review the cold weather payment system precisely to take account of the long-term results of the pensions review and of the need for long-term support for pensioners' heating costs. We have just announced also that we are reversing the decision of the previous Government to cut the budget of the Energy Saving Trust this year from £19 million to £13.5 million. We have restored the whole of that amount. Given a gearing ratio of 4:1, that will lever in about £20 million extra from the private sector. That is a substantial benefit to pensioners and others on low incomes.