HL Deb 20 February 2003 vol 644 cc1266-9
Lord Hunt of Chesterton

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Given that heating and cooling buildings consumes approximately half of all the energy used in the United Kingdom, what targets they have for making changes in building regulations to ensure that future designs will use less energy and become more sustainable.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, in October 2001 we made significant improvements to the energy provisions in the building regulations, which took effect in April 2002. The changes affect both heating and cooling demand. An announcement about further changes will be made in the forthcoming energy White Paper. As well as targeting the construction of new buildings, we are applying the regulations to more work on the existing stock.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. How are the Government and their agencies helping to reach their targets soon through their own procurement programmes and through sponsoring and applying research into new techniques for energy saving and alternative energy systems for buildings?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, an energy White Paper will be published in a few days' time and it will contain some major announcements. It is axiomatic that the Government want to do what they ask others to do; that is, we want to ensure that our own procurement policies are centred on buying products that do not waste energy. We waste some £5 billion worth of energy a year in this country, and the Government, as a public procurer, must set an example.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that, in addition to savings that could be achieved by improved standards for new buildings, a great deal of energy could be saved in existing buildings, but that, due to the low level of energy prices, there is little incentive to do so? Therefore, some stimulus is required. For example, have the Government given thought to the proposal in the PIU report issued a year ago that there should be a 20 per cent saving in energy in domestic premises and have they thought about how that is to be achieved?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, the answer is "yes", but I ask the noble Lord to await the publication of the energy White Paper, which will contain a robust response to the PIU report. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is right: in some ways, it is trivial to concentrate on new build. There are 25 million dwellings in the country and we build only some 160,000 or 170,000 new ones each year. It is crucial to concentrate on existing stock.

Much to my surprise—things happen in government which Ministers do not always know about—in researching for this Question, I discovered some advice for noble Lords who may be thinking of doing some do-it-yourself at Easter, perhaps replacing windows and so on. Apparently, replacement windows were covered by the building regulations that came into force in April last year. Today, it is not possible to buy, either for do-it-yourself purposes or through contractors, wasteful energy windows. Therefore, work is being done in that respect. That may not be the incentive to which the noble Lord referred, but it is an incentive in that regulations are being used to ensure that good, low-energy products are available for people to use in their homes.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a problem with the planning authorities so far as concerns listed buildings? Many of us would love to replace our "wasteful" windows, as the noble Lord calls them, but are not allowed to do so. Have the Government given any thought to that?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, there is always a problem with planning authorities, as I am constantly being told. I do not accept that, just because a building is listed, it is possible for someone to say, "You have to keep the old junk—the wasteful energy windows". Good planning authorities issue advice to owners of listed buildings—they are not always large buildings; sometimes they are small cottages—saying that, if they want to replace windows, they can conform with the structure and history of the building and, at the same time, save energy.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the average householder might well respond to such initiatives if more information were available? Can the average householder be given more information so that, as individuals, we can try to make our houses more energy efficient?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, in some ways the information is made available through people not having a free hand. People cannot now replace a boiler or change the heating controls on a boiler in a slapdash way that wastes energy. Similarly, the regulations ensure that products on the market force people to comply. It is one thing to explain to people the savings that they can make; it is another to explain that it does not involve rocket science.

Together with my noble friend Lord Whitty, the other day I visited the BedZED project in South London. It is a low-energy use development of some 80 flats organised by the Peabody Trust, and it is a beacon development. Nothing that it contains is rocket science. Yet the household heating and energy bills are infinitesimal compared with those of the dwellings that surround the development.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree with the statement in the Question that heating and cooling buildings consumes about half of the energy generated in the United Kingdom? Does he accept that?

Lord Rooker

Yes, my Lords. It is estimated that about 47 per cent of carbon emissions come from buildings: 27 per cent come from dwellings and 20 per cent from other buildings. Therefore, 27 per cent of carbon emissions come from the 25 million dwellings in this country. Thus, the premise of the Question is absolutely correct and we accept those figures.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I declare an interest as a non-executive director of the National House Building Council. I agree with the noble Lord. Lord Ezra, that attention needs to be paid to old buildings. However, does the Minister agree that it is important, in particular, to control the use of energy in public buildings such as this palace and museums? It seems that at a certain time of year the central heating goes on and at another time it goes off, and we sweat at the beginning and end of that period. Then the summer comes and the air conditioning goes on and off arbitrarily. There is no regulating control whereby thousands of pounds worth of energy could be saved.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord says. In a way, that is because, in the past, the concentration has been on new build. Now, the emphasis is on existing stock. The energy savings possible from new build will always be trivial in comparison with those possible from existing stock—whether public buildings or dwellings. If people took the time and trouble to think the matter through, particularly in relation to public buildings, they could save a fortune, whether in light bulbs or through controlling heating systems.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that what he said about the possibility of changes to listed buildings either has been, can be or will be communicated to local councils?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, my answer to the question was off the cuff in that I have seen leaflets from local authorities put through the doors of listed buildings saying, "If you want to change your windows, here is the kind of design to use"; in other words, there is no ban on changing the windows. People must think through the matter in terms of energy. I do not know whether every local authority deals with the matter in the same way, but I shall be happy to make inquiries.

Lord Tanlaw

My Lords, can the Minister reassure us that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not thinking of reintroducing the window tax?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I have no comment whatever to make about what might be in the mind of the Chancellor or of anyone else in the Treasury.