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Homes (Insulation)

Volume 961: debated on Wednesday 31 January 1979

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5.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has any plans to introduce a new scheme under the Homes Insulation Act.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied that retirement pensioners are able effectively to make use of his Department's homes insulation scheme.

I am keeping the operation of the present scheme under review, but have no plans to extend or change its basic provisions immediately. I shall, however, shortly amend the present scheme in order to list those loft insulation products which will be acceptable for grant purposes. I am satisfied that pensioners are able effectively to make use of the scheme.

My right hon. Friend's answer will convince my hon. Friend who asked whether this question was a plant. Nobody would have been more surprised than I had the answer been "Yes". However, will my right hon. Friend note that many people are disbarred from participating in the scheme because they have already made a start on insulation or have inadequate insulation? This rules out those who want to remedy unsatisfactory insulation or to improve existing insulation. Will the Minister amend the scheme so that those people, especially the elderly, can qualify for help?

I understand my hon. Friend's point, but, as was well argued when the Bill was introduced, our objective is to apply expenditure where it is most needed first and thereby enable uninsulated lofts to be insulated. Partly insulated lofts, although unsatisfactory by modern standards, are at least better than uninsulated lofts. When the scheme has been in operation for some time we shall be in a better position to review additions or variants.

How many pensioners have benefited from the scheme, and what percentage is that of the total? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the difficulties of many pensioners on low incomes who are unable to find the total cost of the work before they receive any grant? Can he ensure that they get the grant, perhaps on the basis of an acceptable estimate?

On the first point, we do not have such returns from the local authorities, and I am not sure whether we shall require that statistical breakdown. On the second point, that is a possibility. If such problems are emerging, I should like to receive information about them. So far I have had no evidence of this. Fears have been expressed, but that is different. I shall be prepared to consider an administrative variant to overcome the initial cost problem. We are looking at various ways in which this can be done should there be a need for such an eventuality. But I should first like to have evidence.

I invite the Minister and the Secretary of State to visit the two prototype houses that have been constructed by Salford council on completely new principles. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the designers estimate that the total heating cost will be only £30 per year? On the coldest day this year—and that is saying something—the temperature inside these houses was 70 deg. This scheme may go a long way to avoid the cold, wet, damp and fungus that are afflicting many households today.

I am aware of the Salford project and, from what I have read of it. I am very impressed. The authority is to be highly commended for what it has attempted. As I have been unable to visit the scheme, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is going there shortly at the invitation of the Salford city council. I welcome this kind of work. A great deal of it is being carried out under the auspices of the Building Research Establishment, under the direct umbrella of the Department. But whatever may be the prospects of applying these techniques to new fields, the main problem is with the existing stock. The solution that the Salford project offers cannot help directly, but it will help in the future.

Will the Minister consider some of my constituents, who have been unable to apply for a grant because Camden borough council failed to appoint a relevant officer before the winter started and took no action on his excellent circulars?

I should like to have further information about that. However, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that this is a matter entirely for the elected councils. We have provided the powers through Parliament and the resources by way of Government. If I may have the information, I can make inquiries.