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Grants For Thermal Insulation

Volume 952: debated on Friday 23 June 1978

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

11.7 a.m.

I beg to move, Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 9, at end insert:

"either without any insulation or whose existing insulation does not reach the specified building regulations in force".
We discussed this amendment at some length in Committee. I shall, therefore, try to be brief on this occasion rather than going through the arguments that we rehearsed upstairs.

The purpose of the amendment is, I think, clear. It is to make the modest grants which the Bill provides available both to householders without any roof insulation and to those householders who either have part of their roof space insulated or have insulation in their loft which is inadequate by the standards prescribed by the building regulations currently in force.

I should say at once that we welcome any improvement in those standards, however long delayed, and we also welcome and thank the Under-Secretary for the speed with which he has prepared and released the draft of the first scheme, as he promised in Committee.

I do, however, note that this is the third draft and we were not privileged to see the first or second drafts. We are left wondering what might have been in or what might have been out of those earlier editions. I draw the Under-Secretary's attention to what seems to be a contradition in the explanatory memorandum which he helpfully attached to the draft of the scheme, which seems to be relevant to the purpose of this amendment.

Paragraph 6 of the explanatory memorandum states:
"The insulating quilt has to be laid to a minimum thickness of 80 mm."
We certainly approve of that.
"There will be nothing to prevent the householder installing more than the minimum thickness"
—so even if he is not encouraged, we are glad that he will not be prevented—
"but the present intention is that grant will be limited to the notional cost of the first 80 mm. This prescribed thickness of 80 mm in respect of which it is intended that grant shall be payable has been selected as being the most cost-effective for the purpose of deploying the limited resources available."
That is important, but in paragraph 15 an apology is given for excluding those dwellings which already have some insulation:
"This is again a question of priorities. If a house already has, for example, 40 mm of insulation it is several times more effective in energy terms to put an initial 40 mm in another similar house than to use that 40 mm to top up insulation in the first house."
Those two paragraphs read in conjunction could me misleading. Paragraph 6 says that 80mm is the most cost-effective thickness but paragraph 15 says that it is not cost-effective to add 40mm to 40mm. There seems, therefore, a strong case for accepting at least the spirit of the amendment.

Also, it is unfair to exclude those with a partially or inadequately insulated roof space. They may feel aggrieved when a neighbour who has no insulation can get £50 towards this work.

This exclusion will complicate the scheme. Before they can ask for a grant, householders will have to certify that they have no insulation. It might even pay them to take out what little they have. That will add to the burden of administration. I hope that the Under-Secretary will go some way to meet this case which was strongly argued in Committee and supported by all the opposition parties.

I support the amendment and I ask the Minister to put aside any briefs and consider the matter again. As I pointed out in Committee, if a house had inadequate insulation, a householder might throw it away to make himself eligible for a grant. The Minister said that he was less cynical about human nature. I should make it clear that I was not advocating that kind of behaviour. I simply wanted the Minister to realise that this legislation will encourage people to behave foolishly. People with the foresight to put in some insulation are the only people who will not be able to benefit. That is preposterous.

11.15 a.m.

The opening words of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) might prove unnecessary. If the Minister's brief is to accept the amendment or at least its spirit, I hope that we will disregard what my hon. Friend said.

The amendment would have to be reworded, but I want to make nothing of that. I want to discuss this important matter on its merits. I would not repudiate anything said about cost-effectiveness, but we must use the limited money available to the best possible effect. That is what the first scheme in the Bill is about. As the hon. Member said, we considered it in Committee. I assure the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) that, far from my just reading a brief, we have considered the priorities carefully.

I am resisting the amendment, not because of any brief, but because after careful consideration, we considered that the best use of money to achieve the purpose of the Bill—to conserve energy—would be to accept the priorities in the first scheme.

There is no dispute that if one has, say, 25mm of insulation in one's loft, additional energy savings can be secured by adding further insulation. But that is not the issue before us. Nor is the argument that as energy prices increase the benefits from such topping up will increase. That again I do not dispute. But the fact is that the additional benefits to be secured from each additional thickness of insulation decrease progressively. It is much more cost-effective to put an initial amount of insulation in an uninsulated loft than it is to add further insulation to a loft which already has even a minimal amount of such insulation. In fact 60 per cent. of improved performance in energy-saving terms comes from the first 20mm of insulation, compared with about 20 per cent. from the second and a progressively decreasing amount from each additional slice.

That is the answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) about an apparent conflict between two paragraphs in the Explanatory Memorandum. Of course it saves energy to top up, but it is a question of degree, and the significant figure of 60 per cent. improved performance from the first 20mm.

Thus, the first priority must be to tackle those houses with no loft insulation at all. That offers the greatest savings, because the person with no insulation will be losing heat much more quickly than someone with even 25mm. That is the answer to those who have installed 20mm or 25mm. They will either be living more comfortably or they will be saving energy. It is for them to make the choice—although, obviously they might feel aggrieved when they see a neighbour getting a grant. This is a conservation measure, not a social measure.

In Committee it was said that people would not be allowed to put in 20mm of insulation if that was all they could afford. That is true. The first point to make about such a proposal is that insulation quilt is not generally available in thicknesses below 60mm. Secondly, if we are giving grant for the initial provision of insulation, we must grant-aid the most effective thickness having regard to immediate cost effectiveness, the probability of increasing energy costs and the limited resources available. It is not a matter of less than 80mm being wholly inadequate any more than 80mm is wholly excessive. It is a question of balancing the various factors and our judgment is that grant-aiding 80mm will be the most effective means of using the available resources.

The hon. Member for Hove has performed a service this morning. When we are considering the second and further schemes we shall bear in mind what has been said. In the circumstances I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.

The Under-Secretary's last words were helpful because until then I had been disappointed with his reply. We are reassured to know that he has taken note of what has been said in Committee and in the Chamber. He has been a little more encouraging with regard to the second scheme. We are conscious that this Bill would allow a Secretary of State, if he were so minded, to intro- duce a second scheme a little earlier than the Under-Secretary currently intends. We accept the helpful tone of the Minister's reply. I believe that our criticisms of the scheme remain, but in the light of what has been said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in line 23, at end insert—

"(3A) The second scheme shall be for the improved insulation of living room windows in the case of dwellings without roof spaces or with inaccessible roof space.'.
This amendment has two purposes. The first concerns equity of treatment between different categories of householders while the second purpose has to do with performance in relation to energy-saving potential. The Under-Secretary has agreed that perhaps the most significant shift between the initial stages of this Bill and the present time is that the Government have moved from viewing the Bill as a finite measure of set dimensions and vague possibilities for future development to one which they recognise will have further beneficial factors which can be introduced in the not-too-distant future. If this is now to become a dynamic programme, it is much to be welcomed.

As the Minister knows, there are 14 million dwellings with lofts which it is possible to insulate. Governments of both political complexions have spent money on energy-savings campaigns such as the "Save it" scheme and this has resulted in about 7 million dwellings being insulated. We could argue that these are the wise people who responded to the Government's exhortations. This Bill caters for the 7 million who were unwise in the sense that they did nothing. The Government have introduced their public sector scheme to deal with those in that 7 million who are in the public sector. This Bill is concerned with the private sector.

The amendment asks the Minister what he proposes to do about the 5 million householders who are still left out of consideration, who did not have an opportunity to insulate their lofts either, because they do not have a loft or cannot get into it. If we can prove that the energy saving from some alternative form of insulation for these 5 million is at least as great as that available to those who insulate their lofts, on the grounds of equity such an alternative source ought to be considered, if not within the Bill, certainly very shortly after its passage in a second scheme.

These people were not unwise, in that they did not have the chance to insulate their lofts. There are about 1½ million such people in the public sector and about 3½million in the private sector. Those in the public sector do not come within the scheme recently announced by the Government for that sector whereby financial support is given to local authorities.

In the private sector the 3½million dwellings comprise in part the older cottages, those built in past centuries, where the roof space is narrow and inaccessible with no chance of entry except in an emergency. The numbers are hard to estimate but they probably account for over 100,000 or more of that 3½ million. The second group within that 3½ million is made up of flats. Many of the people excluded will be in the private rented sector. In addition, there are the owners of flats. On grounds of equity I believe that these people have a strong case for consideration.

Is there a form of insulation which is as cost-effective for these 5 million dwellings as loft insulation is for the other dwellings? I will not go into the detail that we went into in Committee on the basic argument concerning double glazing in the living room. Hon. Members will recognise that the old feeling that loft insulation was in all cases the most effective method is now highly questionable. There is firm evidence that the double glazing of a living room is at least as cost-effective at today's prices. This is logical because the living room is kept at a high temperature. It is the one warm room in the house, irrespective of whether there is central heating. Such a room offers a great potential for energy saving.

We know that in some cases the capital cost of double glazing is high, but we are informed that the range of costs is somewhere between£10 a square metre on a "do it yourself" basis and£25 a square metre for the more sophisticated installations. I am told that calculations, in which the Department has been involved, suggest that the saving is in the area of£17 per annum. At current prices the economics of selectivity double glazing rooms heated to a high standard, essentially the living room—and I am sure that we could define such a room—are at least as favourfable as most cases of loft insulation. It the case of non-centrally heated houses the economics are even more favourable.

I believe that grant aid should be provided at least to cover the cost of double glazing living rooms. An argument can be made for all properties to be treated in this way, but for the 5 million dwellings excluded from the present programme I believe that on equity and energy-saving grounds a strong case can be made out for their inclusion in a stage 2 operation which should follow swiftly from the initial programme.

11.30 a.m.

The purpose of this amendment is to lay down for the second scheme under the Bill a provision for the insulation of living room windows. Double glazing would obviously be one of the measures to be taken.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) for his opening remarks. We cannot over-emphasise the importance of the conservation of energy. The Government have this subject constantly under review. Obviously, once the first scheme has been in operation this winter, we shall be able to assess it as a result of our monitoring.

An important issue of principle is at stake here. Hon. Members will appreciate that the primary objective of the Bill is to implement the Budget proposals for grant-aid for insulating roof spaces and water supply installations. The secondary objective is to give to the Government the ability to act flexibly and quickly to bring forward further schemes, as and when need requires and resources permit, and therefore a review of what the first scheme does and how it operates will be very important.

This amendment would restrict this flexibility by laying down in advance what the second scheme should cover. It would prevent a second scheme covering, for example, topping up of loft insulation, or measures to insulate dwellings with flat roofs, or, indeed, the sort of measure which we shall be discussing designed to held the elderly, disabled and others most vulnerable. If this were to be done, we would need to be very sure that the measure to be included under this prescribed second scheme is clearly and unequivocally the most cost-effective and desirable measure after those prescribed in the first scheme.

I have read carefully the remarks of the hon. Member for Northampton, South in Committee, when he quoted from the brief supplied to Committee Members, but not, I am sorry to say, to me, on behalf of Pilkington Glass. I have since obtained a copy, but although my professional officers have examined the case made, the absence of details, particularly on the assumptions made, has meant that they have found it difficult to evaluate. Nor has there been time for detailed consultation either with Pilkington or with professional officers of the Department of Energy.

I accept that in some, perhaps in many, houses the double glazing of the living-room window could bring appreciable benefits, but I would want to examine the evidence supplied by Pilkington and other sources of information a good deal more closely than we have had time to do since the Pilkington brief was supplied before I was satisfied that we should commit ourselves now in the way suggested by the amendment.

In considering the precise terms of the amendment, I am not sure that it is established that there is more justification for double glazing, but this is one of the things that we can go into. I also have considerable doubts about the variety of interpretations which no doubt can be placed upon the term "living-room".

My hon. Friend gave some indication in Committee on the question of draught-stripping, which is relevant in the sense of what is the first priority for the second scheme. He was positive about it in Committee. It would be more advantageous, particularly to the elderly, for draught-stripping to be an early subject of his attention, and surely it should be an earlier priority than living-room window insulation.

Draught-stripping is one of those measures that I have very much in mind. The fact that it is being done in the public sector is an indication of the importance we attach to it. It is precisely because we want to consider very carefully the evidence from Pilkington and, indeed, other sources, and to weigh the merits as between one and another so as to get priorities right, that we want flexibility. For that reason, I do not want to be tied down by the amendment, but I take on board what my hon. Friend has said about draught-stripping, which can and will play a great part in the conservation measures that we will be taking in future.

The brief supplied by Pilkington Glass and, more important, the detailed evidence which lies behind it will be an important factor in our consideration of further measures to be introduced in later schemes under the Bill, and I undertake to have these matters examined very closely as soon as we are able to do so, and to take any necessary consultations as well. But I ask the House not at this stage to tie our hands in relation to future schemes so that we are required to introduce the particular measures referred to before what may turn out to be some more deserving measures and have rather more priority. In the light of that explanation, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for his positive response. What he is saying is that he wishes to have further consultations with the manufacturers and interested parties about the whole range of insulation materials. That will be of great benefit and is to be greatly welcomed. We hope that it will be done with some urgency because there is now an abundance of information, and the matter should be brought to a positive conclusion.

I hope, in addition, that, as we move to a second scheme, we shall reflect on the point of equity. It is an important point that if someone happens to be living in a rather old cottage there are forms of insulation which should be of benefit to him, particularly because he is likely to be on electricity or oil and therefore in the fuel sector that is the most costly.

We should not ignore such people because they happen to be in a relatively small number of properties. There should be some means of ensuring that they can benefit at well. But in the light of the hon. Gentleman's positive response, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 4, at end insert—

'(4A) A scheme other than the first may pro-vide—
  • (a) for grants to be made only to those applying on grounds of special need; or
  • (b) to be made, in the case of those so applying, on a higher scale prescribed by the order under subsection (4).
  • (4B) For the purpose "special need" is to be determined by reference to such matters personal to the applicant as may be prescribed by the scheme, particularly age, disability, bad health and inability without undue hardship to finance the cost of the works.'.

    With this is will be convenient to take Amendment No. 4, in page 2, line 4, at end insert—

    '(4A) In making other schemes the Secretary of State may make special provision with regard to the types of improved insulation which shall be eligible for grant to applicants who are pensioners, registered disabled or chronically sick.'.

    My intention in moving this amendment is to respond to the wishes expressed by Members on both sides in Committee that the Secretary of State should have power to make special provision in future schemes for applicants who are pensioners, disabled or chronically sick.

    The original amendment put down by hon. Members opposite in Committee would have enabled the Secretary of State to provide special rates of grant for such applicants. Looking to the future, one of the many uncertainties is the cost of undertaking further insluation measures, and I agree that it would be desirable for the Bill to provide for the possibility of special grant rates and grant maxima for applicants with special needs. Subsection (4A)(b) as set out in the amendment is designed to meet this objective.

    Like all other matters relating to grant rates and amounts, any such special provision would, by virtue of Clause 1(4) require an order made with Treasury approval and subject to negative resolution by this House.

    The earlier amendment, withdrawn by the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) in Committee, would, I think, have done as I have suggested. However, on further consideration of the whole question of applicants with special needs, I have come to the conclusion that the Bill should be further amended in order to permit the introduction of a scheme or schemes aimed specifically at the thermal insulation needs of such applicants. This would enable the Secretary of State to introduce a scheme offering grant-aid for a measure or measures designed particularly to help all or any of the special groups about which we are all concerned, and to limit grant availability to people falling within those groups. The first part of subsection (4A) as set out in the amendment provides the necessary power for this to be done.

    I have also considered which groups of people should be eligible for these special provisions. As I said in Committee, there may well be groups with special needs other than those listed in the original amendment of the hon. Member for Hove. The second half of this amendment—subsection (4B)—has therefore been drawn in a rather more flexible way, but indicating clearly the particular issues which would be taken into account in determining eligibility for the special provisions to be made within a general scheme, or for the grants available under a scheme limited to those in special need. As hon. Members will appreciate, the main extension to the groups previously included is the case of financial hardship.

    I hope hon. Members opposite will agree that in bringing forward this amendment I have honoured the undertaking which I gave to them in Committee, and that they and my hon. Friends will agree that the amendment has been drawn in a sufficiently flexible way to enable us to help those whose needs are greatest.

    We on the Conservative Benches welcome the Government's positive and speedy response to the amendment we put forward in Committee. We accept what the Under-Secretary said about the drafting of his amendment being flexible, with one proviso to which I shall turn later.

    Our welcome for the amendment is all the warmer not only because of the support it had in Committee, where the Government accepted its spirit and principle, but because we are becoming ever more aware of and better informed about, the importance of providing help to disadvantaged groups, especially the disabled and the elderly.

    We are indebted to Mr. Malcolm Wicks for his book, "The Old and Cold", published the day before we started our Committee consideration of the Bill. It is a lengthy book, and we did not have time to read it before the Committee started. It gives factual evidence of the extent of the risk of hypothermia and the importance of doing something, for social as well as energy conservation reasons.

    I believe that I am correct in saying that we still await another important report, that by the Research Institute for Consumer Affairs, which I understand was commissioned jointly by the Department of Energy and the Department of the Environment to examine case studies and determine what improvements could be made in heating arrangements for old people. On 28th July last year the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security said:
    "The results of these case studies will be published in a booklet before next winter."— [Official Report, 28th July 1977 Vol. 936, c. 1119.]
    I do not think that we had the booklet before "next winter", which is now some time ago. I hope that we shall have the benefit of this additional information as soon as possible.

    I now turn to our Amendment No. 4. Does the hon. Gentleman think that his amendment embraces its purpose? The amendment says:
    "In making other schemes the Secretary of State may make special provision with regard to the types of improved insulation which shall be eligible for grant to applicants who are pensioners, registered disabled or chronically sick."
    I emphasise the word "types". The wording of our amendment could be brought into line with the Government's amendment. This is another aspect, in addition to the aspect to which the hon. Gentleman referred, of providing help to disadvantaged groups.

    As my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) has just pointed out, it is at the very least arguable that for those who are confined to one room, a living room, which does not have a roof space above it, the most effective form of insulation is double glazing of the living room windows. The Minister has undertaken to have further consultations on that matter.

    In addition to allowing grants, or a higher scale of grant, to be made to those applying on grounds of special need, our amendment would allow those concerned to receive grants for other forms of insulation. This is an important point. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Thomas) rightly referred to draught-stripping as an important aspect of insulation, one which is accepted for public sector housing. It could be particularly useful for the disabled.

    I in no way differ from the hon. Gentleman or my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary as to motives. But I wonder why—perhaps my hon. Friend or the hon. Gentleman knows the answer—the matter with which we are now dealing could not be dealt with under subsections (2) and (5). The questions of sorts of applicants, types of insulation, priorities to be observed between different applicants and so on could all be dealt with under the existing methods.

    I hope that the Minister will reassure us that the making of grants for other types of insulation to those applying on grounds of special need will be covered in the schemes that are brought forward. Can the hon. Gentleman also assure us that the further scheme providing help for those in special need will be brought forward very shortly? None of us doubts its importance.

    11.45 a.m.

    I understand that the report to which the hon. Gentleman referred is with the printers and should be available early next month. It is a valuable report, because it is related to the questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Thomas) and the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury).

    The Government amendment covers the Opposition amendment on types of insulation. Under the amendment we could have a scheme—the report is very relevant here—that would deal exclusively with the elderly, under various measures. We may well have to consider separate measures dealing with the particular circumstances in which old people live. They vary from place to place. We could well introduce different types of measures from which they would benefit whatever their circumstances.

    As for the question of urgency, we were pressed very hard in Committee, where it was the unanimous desire to see an early scheme. It depends on resources and so on, but I should like to introduce measures as quickly as is reasonable and sensible.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move Amendment No. 5, in page 2, leave out lines 17 and 18 and insert—

  • '(a) in Greater London—
  • (i) as regards dwellings in a general improvement area or housing action area declared by the Greater London Council under the Housing Acts, that Council, and
  • (ii) otherwise, London borough councils and the Common Council of the City of London;
  • (b) elsewhere in England and Wales, district councils.'.
  • With this amendment we are to take Amendment No. 6, in page 2, leave out lines 17 to 19 and insert—

    '(a) in England and Wales (other than Greater London), district councils and the Council of the Isles of Scilly;
    (aa) in Greater London, in an area declared by the Greater London Council to be either a general improvement area under section 28 of the Housing Act 1969 (as substituted by section 50 of, and Part I of Schedule 5 to, the Housing Act 1974) or a housing action area under section 36 of the Housing Act 1974, the Greater London Council, otherwise London borough councils and the Common Council of the City of London; and'.

    The purpose of the amendment is to make the Greater London Council the authority responsible for payment of insulation grants in the general improvement areas or housing action areas that it has declared. As the Bill stands, the GLC cannot pay these grants at all. The London boroughs are the only grant-paying authorities in Greater London.

    There is no difference in purpose or in effect between this amendment and that tabled by the hon. Member for Hamp- stead (Mr. Finsberg). The difference is a matter of drafting. There is, for example, no need to specify the precise sections of the different Housing Acts.

    Loft insulation is a requirement of house renovation grants, but is not itself eligible for renovation grant. Applicants for house renovation grants who are installing insulation will therefore need to make a separate application for insulation grant. This is not a bureaucratic or unnecessary requirement—quite the contrary.

    The procedures which we have in mind for the insulation grant will be extremely simple and will avoid the complexities of the house renovation grant system. We intend to ask authorities to set aside a sufficient proportion of their resources for insulation grant to satisfy the demand from their renovation grant applicants. Because of the time lag between approval of project and payment of renovation grant, they should have adequate prior knowledge of the amount likely to be involved.

    In Greater London, the GLC is the sole grant-paying authority for renovation grants in the general improvement areas and housing action areas which it has declared. As the Bill stands, people would have to apply to the GLC for their house renovation grant and to the appropriate borough for their insulation grant. This would be unnecessarily confusing, particularly to a householder seeking to obtain both grants, because the GLC is seen as the source of all grants for dwellings in these areas. We cannot reasonably expect the householder to distinguish between renovation grants and insulation grants. To him, they are birds of a feather.

    It would also be difficult for the two authorities. The London boroughs would not necessarily allow for all the GLC house renovation grant applicants who required insulation grant. The GLC could not help these applicants either. The authorities might also have differing views about the work to be done.

    It is therefore better to make the GLC the sole grant-paying authority in its GIAs and HAAs for both house renovation grants and insulation grants. Since the GLC can declare HAAs and GIAs only with the consent of the borough concerned, this would not seem to be a matter which would in any way undermine the responsibilities of the boroughs. At present there are only eight GLC GIAs and HAAs in Greater London.

    I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel that the amendment covers the point he was making.

    I am grateful to the Minister. I hope that he will forgive me if I speak rather slowly, because he might need some advice. He said that the amendment in his name is better than mine, and I accept that at once. But according to my reading of page 2 of the Bill, his amendment now leaves us with two subsections (b), which cannot he correct. My amendment would have given us a subsection (a) and a subsection (aa). According to the Minister's amendment, subsection (b) reads:

    "elsewhere in England and Wales, district councils.'.
    However, he has not deleted line 20 in the Bill, which is also a subsection (b) and which reads:
    "In Scotland, islands and district councils."
    Therefore, it may well be that his draftsmen are as inaccurate, or as otiose as mine.

    Having said that, I should also like to ask whether I am correct in assuming that the Isles of Scilly are still included, because one distinguished Member of this House might be interested in any prospect of insulation grants. I think the Isles of Scilly are being left in, because they appear in line 19, which is not being deleted.

    As always, parliamentary draftsmen are, on the face of it, more accurate than anyone else. It certainly appears that the Minister's most helpful amendment would cover the points that I have sought to raise. It makes sense that the GLC, which is already the sole grant-making local authority in its declared housing action areas and general improvement areas, should in those areas, be the local authority to make grants under the Bill. As the Minister has said, the amendment is designed to make this simple provision, which has the merit that its operation by the GLC can be easily incorporated into the council's existing administrative procedures which relate to home renovation grants. Without the amendment it might be found that the inconsistency as to the authority responsible for renovation grants on the one hand, and insulation grants on the other, may cause the boroughs to make additional provision in their administrative arrangements relating to the processing of applications for the various grants.

    No one would want to see that happen. Therefore, the Minister has most helpfully recognised this in what he has said. I am not quite sure whether he is yet in a position to answer my point. It might be a little difficult to continue talking to the amendment without necessarily repeating myself. I hope that the advice has reached him, and I am delighted to give my support to the amendment which he has proposed if, in fact, it is accurate.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for slowing down his speech. I acknowledge that I constantly require advice. I am bound to say that in the changing society in which we live, my advice to my grandsons with regard to a career which would last them the whole of their lives would be to become parliamentary draftsmen. My admiration for those people never ceases.

    I am told that if the amendment requires altering with regard to subsection (a) and subsection (b), no parliamentary action is necessary because the printers would correct it. I am also told that the Scilly Isles are included.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

    11.53 a.m.

    I said at the outset that we Conservatives had no intention of delaying the Bill. We welcome its intention. Our only regret was that it had taken so long to bring forward, and we still hold to that view.

    Criticisms has been made of the Bill which I think the Minister and, I hope, those experts in his Department, have taken on board and will be reflected in further schemes. The most serious criticism of the Bill as it now stands is that there is still this element of unfairness as between one householder and another to the extent that help is available to those who have no insulation in their lofts or on their water tanks but it is not available to those who have some or inadequate insulation. In addition, help is not available for some schemes which we Conservatives believe could be equally worth while.

    This is particularly adverse for those who live in flats. Understandably, the majority of people who live in flats do not have a roof space. In particular where one has a flat which is several storeys above ground level, or if it is well exposed to the winds blowing off the sea in a south-westerly direction, as some in my constituency are, other forms of insulation, such as draught proofing or double glazing, would be equally worthwhile. But under the first scheme these are not eligible.

    There is also the point that to some extent there is discouragement to provide the insulation to the higher standards which other countries now require. The Minister said that one cannot overestimate the importance of energy conservation. That is a sentiment with which we Conservatives would certainly agree. But we remain somewhat surprised that, having said that they cannot overestimate the importance of energy conservation, the Government have been somewhat slow in bringing forward worthwhile measures for energy conservation.

    The Bill is not as good as it could be. It is not as good as we believe it should be. However, it does some good and we do not want to delay it. It has one great advantage, because in some senses it is an enabling Bill which provides for the Secretary of State to bring forward schemes. We now know the content of the first scheme and we have had an indication from the Minister as to what he might wish to see in the second scheme.

    We confidently expect that others sitting where the Minister now sits will shortly have the opportunity of bringing forward further schemes. To the extent that the Bill in no way restricts the next Conservative Secretary of State from making more active, positive progress on energy conservation—and, indeed, provides him with the power so to do—we very much welcome the Bill.

    11.56 a.m.

    I should like briefly to add one word. Of late, the Department of the Environment has taken to issuing some very helpful explanatory leaflets when regulations or new legislation come in. This will clearly be a fairly complex problem, because people may not understand the sort of language which discusses 20 mm. and 60 mm. or the difference between renovation grants and insulation grants. I therefore issue a plea that the Department continues the excellent start which it has made by producing a leaflet which can explain in ordinary language which our constituents can understand so that they know exactly what to apply for and what they are eligible for.

    It might perhaps be helpful if a further precedent were followed and supplies were made available not merely to the local authorities but to organisations such as Citizens' Advice Bureaux, which do such excellent work. Perhaps such a leaflet might also go to Members of Parliament, who clearly will get queries on this point.

    11.57 a.m.

    Having waited for some time for new building standards, we now find that loft insulation is to be 50mm. under the building regulations, yet under this Bill there is a requirement for 80mm. in order to qualify for a grant. It is extraordinary that the Government have put themselves in a position where they are applying different standards to the building regulations and to the Homes Insulation Bill.

    Although the Bill has been described as an energy conservation measure, it is remarkable that no energy Minister has been present in the Chamber during Second Reading, in Committee, or on Third Reading. This point is relevant, and not simply a minor personal point, because the Bill was introduced by a Minister who amazed the House by saying that the largest loss of heat was through the loft. In fact, to anyone who studies the subject, it it well known that that is not true and that the largest heat loss is through walls. But it is also relevant—and I am not merely making narrow personal points—because we know that in this country a planned, coherent policy put across with conviction on energy conservation is badly needed, and that is just what we do not have.

    Loft insulation lends itself to a national and imaginative scheme. One has only to think of the programme for converting houses from town gas to natural gas. That was a major national programme co-ordinated by the British Gas Corporation. A programme of loft insulation could lend itself to a similar campaign where people living in specified roads would know when the men were coming to insulate lofts in the area and that theirs would be left out if they did not take part in the scheme. To have had such a scheme would have required some kind of leadership. However, this Government, being a Socialist Government, choose to adopt the Wilfred Pickles approach which is to "Give 'em the money."

    There is only one disqualification for receiving the money under the scheme, and that is, if a householder has been thoughtful enough already to insulate his loft, he is not eligible under the Bill. This really is a charter for foolish virgins, and one is forced to say that delay and dither has been replaced by bungling. But that should not prevent us getting across the message that insulating lofts and lagging hot water tanks is the best investment that householders can make. If this Bill helps get across that message, the Opposition will not oppose it.

    I must apologise for entering this debate so late. The speed of progress took me rather by surprise.

    I wish to make a short contribution on Third Reading which, in a sense, repeats what I said during the earlier stages of the Bill. It is to register some complaint about the wrong priorities which the Bill introduces into our improvement programme.

    I have no objection to the basic principle of providing improvement grants for the insulation of lofts. It is an excellent idea in principle. What I find objectionable—and the same goes for many of my constituents—is that the Government can find money for this proposition at a time when they have to reject urgently needed improvement grants for other desirable cases.

    I can tell the Minister where. It is in the Swale district of my constituency.

    I do not regard this as a party issue. There is general agreement about the need to have a first-class improvement programme. A deputation from Swale came to see one of the Minister's colleagues about this matter, and my constituents were given a sympathetic response and told that at a later stage in the year additional money might be forthcoming to help them. But that money is not there at present.

    I have a case in mind which is very relevant. Yesterday, I received a letter informing me that the council was not able to give an improvement grant because it had no money.

    Order, This is Third Reading, and the hon. Member must direct his remarks to what is in the Bill.

    I hope that I shall be in order in saying that I do not think that the Bill should have a Third Reading until—

    That is permissible, of course. But the hon. Member is not entitled at this stage to say what he thinks ought to be done in place of the Bill. He must discuss what is in the measure.

    Then, may I give my reasons for thinking that the Bill should not have a Third Reading?

    It is no good the hon. Member talking about other provisions which ought to be included. His remarks must be directed to the provisions which are in the Bill.

    Perhaps I shall be in order if I say that the money provided by this Bill should be applied to another purpose. Will that be in order?

    I think that it will be sufficient for me to say that we have been deprived of money necessary for improvement grant programmes. I can quote many examples of houses which might be eligible for roof insulation grants but which cannot have the necessary money to build inside toilets when young children are having to use chemical flush toilets.

    The Minister says that is nonsense. I can give him chapter and verse. It is the absolute truth.

    I shall do it some other time. I simply wish to register a protest on behalf of people who have been deprived of much-needed improvement money. Preference is being given to other measures which do not deserve priority and other areas are getting preference over my constituency.

    I am grateful for the very constructive suggestions made in Committee and again this morning on Report. In relation to further schemes, we shall consider such matters as double glazing, draught-stripping, and so on, but without commitment to any schemes which will be brought forward. Certainly we shall bear in mind all that has been said.

    The Government take very seriously the conservation of energy, and I speak with conviction when I say that. But we had to find a simple scheme which was easy to administer and, above all, easily understood. I take on board what the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) said. People are put off improving their homes because of all the forms and bureaucracy. That is why this scheme is so simple. We hope that it will be easily understood. An explanatory leaflet will be issued, and we are also in touch with voluntary bodies to make sure that the elderly and other vulnerable groups especially are aware of the grants that are available and what can be done.

    Again this may be normal practice. If it is not, will the Minister undertake to look at the final draft of the leaflet to ensure that it satisfies him? If it satisfies him, I am sure that it will satisfy all of us.

    I am grateful for that comment. I am always asking for the ordinary man's guide to all these matters. I have to answer hundreds of letters on rent legislation, and I think that the House knows how difficult it is to devise a form of words which is easily understood. We shall issue an explanatory leaflet with every application form, and I give the hon. Member the assurance that I myself will look at what is proposed.

    This is one more measure in a series which the Government have brought forward to deal with this very important matter, and I commend it to the House.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.