HL Deb 12 December 1977 vol 387 cc1871-82

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy. The Statement is as follows:

Existing policies have contributed to energy savings approximately estimated to be worth some £2,000 million over the last four years. As was recognised at the London Summit meeting in May, energy conservation must play a major role in our future energy policies. I therefore set in hand a review of action to bring about a significant reduction in the future growth of energy demand, following recommendations made by my Advisory Council on Energy Conservation. Today I am announcing a substantial package of decisions.

"First, the Property Services Agency will extend its existing programme in the civil and defence estates, at a cost of £5 million per year. This will make possible continued progress towards the eventual target of saving 35 per cent. of the fuel used at the start of the programme in 1972. This represents around £30 million a year at today's prices.

"Secondly, as part of a long-term programme for installing thermal insulation and heating controls in National Health Service buildings, it is planned to invest an additional £5 million in 1978–79 and £10 million in each of the succeeding three years.

"Third, as part of a similar programme in educational buildings it is planned to make available an additional £10 million in 1978–79 and £20 million in each of the succeeding three years.

"Fourth, the Government will discuss with local authorities the very substantial opportunities for energy savings in their non-domestic buildings, other than schools. We propose to make additional funds, of up to £7 million a year, available for the necessary staff to secure efficient energy management and for the installation of heating controls. The precise sums to be spent will depend upon discussion with local authorities.

"Fifth, the Government are launchign a 10-year programme to bring public sector dwellings up to a basic minimum standard of thermal insulation. This will involve treating over 2 million dwellings and will have major social benefits. Spending for this purpose will be made eligible for central Government housing subsidies. Provision is being made for expenditure over the next four years at an annual rate of £28½ million. In addition £2 million a year will be spent on improving the insulation of Ministry of Defence dwellings.

"The Department of the Environment has for some time been consulting outside interests on proposals for building regulations to prescribe thermal insulation standards in new non-domestic buildings, and regulations resulting from this consultation are expected to be made shortly. The Government have now decided on two further steps in this area.

"Sixth, the introduction of building regulations requiring the provision of appropriate controls on heating systems is under consideration. The regulations would apply to the installation of heating plant in new non-domestic buildings and to its replacement in existing non-domestic buildings. A consultative document will be issued as soon as possible.

"Seventh, to promote efficient energy management in non-domestic buildings, a new Government advisory and training service will be set up. Half a million pounds a year has been made available for this purpose.

"Eighth, in addition the Government have allocated £4 million in 1978–79 and £5 million in each of the next three years to expand information and advisory services to industry.

"Ninth, the Government have allocated an additional £2 million in 1978–79, rising to £8 million in 1981–82, for an expanded programme of demonstration projects.

Tenth, more efficient motor vehicles could make a significant contribution to containing the growth in demand for oil for transport. The Government have opened discussions with the motor industry on possible targets for raising the average miles per gallon achieved by new cars and on methods of achieving those targets.

"Eleventh, the Government have allocated an additional half a million pounds a year over the next four years to an information and publicity campaign aimed at persuading motorists to see that their cars are well maintained and to drive in more economical ways.

"This reinforcement of our policies will require additional staff on energy conservation. In the Department of Enegry I am establishing a separate division, responsible solely for energy conservation. Conservation will now rank with the energy producing industries as an essential element in our energy policies.

"The measures I have described will involve additional public expenditure on energy conservation in the United Kingdom estimated at some £65 million (gross) in 1978–79, rising to over £80 million a year (gross) in the following three years. This will be spread over a number of programmes and will be financed as far as possible from savings elsewhere in those programmes, including in later years savings on energy consumption resulting from the investment made in earlier years.

"These programmes will take up to 10 years to complete and will involve expenditure, in the first four years alone, of some £320 million at 1977 survey prices. They offer satisfactory returns on the expenditure involved, even at today's energy prices, and they could lead to savings of up to 10 million tons of oil equivalent a year at the end of the 10-year period, worth some £700 million a year at current prices. They will also provide jobs in the construction industry. But energy conservation is not a matter for the Government alone. To achieve the potential savings in full will depend in large part on how far the private sector matches the steps we have embarked on in the public sector. Higher energy prices make conservation good sense for everyone.

"Our programme is a continuing one. We shall be bringing forward further measures in other areas, as and when necessary. We shall need to decide how far any further reinforcement of our policies should be achieved by mandatory measures, by fiscal action, or in other ways. However, the measures I have announced today represent an important stage in the development of our energy conservation programme. Despite Britain's ample energy reserves conservation is just as important here as in other countries less fortunately placed."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, we thank the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, for repeating a Statement made in another place. From this Bench we welcome the Statement which the public and industry have been awaiting for some months. It deals mainly with the question of thermal insultation and control of heating in Government and non-domestic buildings. It is right that the Government should adopt policies to conserve energy and that, when those policies have been decided upon, they should be made fully known throughout the country. I am sure that the Government will meet co-operation generally throughout the country once the ideas, proposals and decisions are made known.

On the question of motor-cars, I hope that the Government will not lose heart from what appears to have been some failure in this area in the United States of America. After the 1973–74 crisis there was a move towards smaller motor cars, but I think that the idea of the family car in the United States is something which is very difficult to change. It is rather like asking Scots to give up whisky. However, I believe that it is different in this country and that, given encouragement, families and individuals will adopt petrol-saving motor-cars and smaller cars where they do not need the larger ones.

The question which will arise in the minds of the general public was raised towards the end of the Statement; namely, the Government's proposals concerning domestic buildings and the private householder. Nothing very much has been said about that, but we welcome the setting up of an advisory and training service which is the present suggestion in this area. I think that the public need every encouragement as regards saving fuel and it will save their own pockets if it is done properly.

However, in the last paragraph of the Statement it is said that mandatory measures are to be considered. I ask the Minister whether the Government can tell us of any plans concerning the domestic householder and the private sector, because there is a problem here. If it is thought that plans will be brought forward some time in the future—perhaps in two or three years' time—which will involve grants for insulation or for adapting heating systems, then the public may hold back and delay. On the other hand, if it can be made clear, either that if grants are available they will be available immediately, from the start, or else that advice, assistance and training as suggested by this new body will be available, then if everybody is given as much encouragement as possible the public are likely to go ahead straight away with the various methods of saving energy. Therefore, I ask the Minister whether the Government can at this stage say any more about the measures which are simply mentioned at the end of the Statement, but are in no way specified, relating to non-domestic buildings and heating systems.

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, from these Benches we, too, should like to welcome the measures outlined by the noble Lord the Minister in his Statement. A number of noble Lords have been pressing for these over a period of years and I am delighted to see from the detail of this Statement the areas in which the Government are considering taking action. However, I seek clarification of one or two matters in the Statement, which may help everybody. For instance, does the basic minimum standard of thermal insulation, to which the noble Lord referred in the fifth paragraph of the Statement, refer to the existing standard or scales of thermal insulation?

It is very important for the building industry and, indeed, even for individuals, to know the Government's thinking as to whether or not they wish to raise the U values and the thermal capacities of buildings, or at least keep them in line with those in EEC countries which have a similar or comparable winter climate. I am not too clear about non-domestic buildings. Presumably that does not refer to industrial buildings. Are industrial buildings omitted for any specific reason? As a matter of interest, presumably the Palace of Westminster is a non-domestic building. I should be interested to know what the Minister has in mind for insulation here or, indeed, what he thinks the correct temperature should be for us to work in.

Finally, I want to take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, about the motorist. He referred to approaches made to the motor industry in order to achieve fuel savings through increased mileage per gallon. Does that mean that Her Majesty's Government are losing interest in exhaust emission controls, which, if implemented, must, I understand, on the latest technical advice, decrease the number of miles per gallon? Indeed, perhaps that would be helpful. I have no more to say and greatly look forward to hearing more of this subject at a later date.

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister two questions. Will he not agree that it is far better, in dealing with the British people, not to use words but to give an example? One that comes readily to my mind is that the Government should say that from 1st April next all Government cars which are bought for the purpose of conveying individuals will have a horsepower no greater than, say, 1,000 ccs. That would reduce the cost enormously; it would not detract from the convenience of those who ride in the cars, and it would have a quite remarkable effect on public opinion if the public knew that the top brass—be they civil or military—were going to ride much as the Government want them to.

Secondly, it will be in the recollection of many of us that some years ago a Government—I believe it was a Labour Government—moved over to a flat horsepower tax because they wanted to encourage the production of large horsepower cars for the foreign market. It is obviously true that for our own domestic reasons, and because the same policies will be required in other countries, a reversal of that policy would be highly desirable. I cannot expect the Minister to answer that question today, but will he recommend the Chancellor to come forward with an announcement—not necessarily in the next financial year, but perhaps the year after—that in future the horsepower tax will not be a flat rate, but that the lower the horsepower, the less will be the tax?


My Lords, there have often been debates in your Lordships' House on the insulation of the domestic properties of the elderly and the handicapped. Could the Minister say whether ultimately, there will be insulation in domestic buildings, and whether note will be taken in the first instance of the properties of the elderly and the handicapped?

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, may I say at the outset of my brief reply to the remarks made in your Lordships' House, that I detect a general welcome from all sides of the House to the Government's proposals which I have outlined this afternoon. In specific response to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, I would assure him that of course the Government have not set their face against mandatory or fiscal policy, but I think that I can say at this stage only that our policy for private dwellinghouses and the private sector is one of continuing evolvement. In particular we aim to encourage those energy-saving measures which are economic and which benefit the user as well as the nation. Therefore, in the Government's view the savings in the fuel bill should be sufficient incentive to the householder. As regards our policy to private householders, we wish to provide information on the costs of insulation and the financial savings that can be obtained. As to the latter part of the noble Lord's comprehensive question, I cannot this afternoon answer that clearly on behalf of the Government.

In response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, I confirm that insulation is at present standard. I will note his point about the EEC level. I confirm that we mean "commercial"; we talk of "domestic"; we do not speak of "industrial", mainly because the findings of an examination that we have made so far suggest that industrial undertakings are observing energy savings in a quite substantial way.

I shall certainly pass to the appropriate Department the observation made by my noble friend Lord Wigg about Government cars and military cars. I shall examine the point he made about a possible tax amendment, which is at least a possibility for the future, and will pass that suggestion to the appropriate Minister.

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, if, as I understand it, the Minister has been explaining the Government's energy policy, I would regard it as very inadequate indeed. However, this is not the occasion on which to debate it. I have tabled a Question, to be dealt with after the Recess, on certain aspects of energy policy and I shall refrain from dealing with them now.

However, I should like to ask two questions. First, how much of the expenditure is to be involved in providing thermal insulation in existing premises, and how much in premises which are presumably under the authority or decision of local authorities—that is, residential property and new property? Is it not the case that expenditure on thermal insulation for old property, with a view to the conservation of energy, is much more expensive than it is likely to be on new property, when one starts afresh?

Secondly, nothing has been said by the Minister in his Statement—and indeed, nothing has been asked by either of the noble Lords opposite—about experiments in solar energy. Is it the case that the Government have been informed of experiments in solar energy which, although it is impossible to operate throughout all 12 months in any one year, can be operated at certain times during the year? Has anything been done about that? Is it not the case that recently there was an energy conference at which several Governments were represented—including our own—and that nothing was said about the possibility of developing solar energy, as is being done in the United States of America and being subsidised by the United States Government?

4 p.m.


My Lords, I should apologise to your Lordships' House in that earlier I failed to answer the pertinent point put to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithful'. I do not have the reply with me. The Department of Energy is not my prime responsibility, although from time to time I speak for it in your Lordships' House. I do not have that information with me today, but I shall examine the point and certainly write to the noble Baroness when I have the appropriate reply.

My noble friend Lord Shinwell poses two questions to me. As to his second question, I cannot give a reply this afternoon. I shall look into the point he raises about solar energy, and if I can be of assistance to him in that regard I shall certainly communicate with him. As regards the first point he makes, can indicate that the Department of Energy has investigated the potential of savings in the private sector and the estimate is that just under 1 million tons of oil equivalent per annum would be saved if all private sector housing was brought up to a basic level of insulation; that is, tank jackets, loft insultation and simple draught proofing. This would compare with a saving of about 10 million tons of oil equivalent per annum which the present package envisages, but this is a more comprehensive programme which is being talked of.

If I can reflect on and refer to the question of local authority housing, because I do not have the figures for existing private sector dwellings, about two-thirds of all local authority dwellings lack basic insulation, and the Department of Energy considers that local authorities are unlikely to have the necessary funds available for this work. The Government have decided to allocate funds for the insulation of council dwellings to ensure that progress is made in an area where the Government themselves have a measure of public responsibility. I hope that that at least in part answers the question.


My Lords, I welcome this Statement. In connection with the saving of oil and oil equivalent, could I ask the Minister whether the Government will look into the question of the application and use of electric vehicles in a more serious manner than they are doing at the moment, because this would be a valuable contribution to oil saving?


My Lords, this matter has, of course, been raised frequently in your Lordships' House. The Government certainly have no closed view of the position. I am unable to say that it is under active consideration at this time.


My Lords, can my noble friend satisfy me about the proposal for the thermal insulation of hospitals? Is it not a fact that, whereas this might make the wards warm and the patients comfortable in the winter, it might make the wards far too hot and the patients for too uncomfortable in the middle of summer?


Not, my Lords, if you live in the middle of Aberdeen, as I do.


My Lords, what about if you live in London?


My Lords, could the Minister say why the Statement referred only to energy conservation by private motorists and did not embrace the whole of the transport field, including heavy goods vehicles and other forms of road passenger transport? While on the subject, what about some savings by aircraft, and also by British Rail? Why only the private motorists to be induced to save energy?


My Lords, I was at pains to point out that we could not claim this to be a totally comprehensive package, nor can we say that it is a package fully binding for all time. It is an evolving measure. This is the stage at which we feel we can put these postulates before your Lordships' House. We are, in the meantime, engaged in conversation with the AA, the RAC, and other transport organisations. Matters are by no means closed at this stage.


My Lords, while welcoming the Statement, may I ask the Minister, in connection with points 10 and 11 dealing with transportation, why is there no mention of any monies being made available for research into transportation energy savings? My understanding is that road transport takes up some 25 per cent. of total oil consumption in the United Kingdom, but that the industry itself is unable to foresee any substantial savings in consumption until at least 1985. That is a long way away. It is also my understanding that there is no research being undertaken outside the industry itself to shorten this time so that there can be an encouragement into road fuel savings rather than the discouragement that comes through fiscal policies. In other words, the easiest way is to raise the tax on fuel and down comes consumption; but in fact it should work the reverse way, and I heard no mention of developments in this field.


My Lords, I can only reiterate that we cannot claim this to be the totality of everything we shall ever do, or are going to do, in terms of energy conservation. We claim it to be a significant and major first step. Priorities are always a factor, and the limitation of public expenditure commitment is also always a factor, but I take note of the noble Lord's remarks.


My Lords, we have now had over 27 minutes on this Statement. It is a very important matter, but I am sure that it would be the wish of the House that we should now return to the Housing Order.