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Energy Efficiency

Volume 76: debated on Monday 1 April 1985

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15.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy by what criteria he intends to measure improvements in energy efficiency in the United Kingdom in the current year.

The overall annual improvement in United Kingdom energy efficiency can be estimated by comparing the level of energy consumption with that of the preceding year, after making allowances for changes in the level of economic activity, temperature, structure of the economy and any other known factors affecting energy demand.

It was implicit in the answer by the Secretary of State a few moments ago that no new money was being made available in energy efficiency year. To dispel a rapidly growing impression that this might be a gimmick, using the criteria suggested by the Minister, what targets are being set for energy efficiency year 1986?

My right hon. Friend has made that clear already. We have 14,000 senior executives attending early morning briefings. We have a 50 per cent. increase in the extended survey schemes. We have greater energy efficiency in commercial and industrial buildings reaching more than 150,000 senior executives. This demonstrates that there is not only great potential but that this Government, through the pioneering and enthusiastic work of my right hon. Friend, are leading the way towards a more energy-efficient nation.

Yes, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that the Secretary of State for Energy, quite properly and courteously, informed the House that when he answered Question No. 9 he was also answering Questions Nos. 23 and 25, which had been tabled by the hon. Members for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). By 10 minutes past three, we had reached Question No. 13, and in the last few minutes of Question Time we dealt with another two Energy questions. It means that the hon. Members for Exeter and for Wells would not otherwise have had their questions answered, even if we had had a reasonable amount of time, and that they were thereby given an opportunity to ask supplementary questions, whereas hon. Members who had tabled Questions Nos. 15 to 22 were prevented from asking them. Will you look into this matter and offer the House a ruling?

It is not a matter for me if Ministers link questions. But I repeat that I, too, link questions in my own mind. I was able to call five hon. Members whose questions dealt with subjects which were broadly linked, if they were not on exactly the same subject. I think that the hon. Member was one of them.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Was not it unprecedented for the Minister to link Question No. 9 with Nos. 23 and 25? Is it not significant that the two questions with which the original Question No. 9 was linked had been tabled by Conservative Members? In defending Back-Bench rights, may we accept what the Minister has done as a precedent whereby, in future, if Opposition Members have questions tabled up to No. 25 which could be linked and they are not called, they, too, should have the right to ask supplementary questions?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If you examine this matter — as you undoubtedly will—will you bear in mind that sometimes when questions are linked, if there is a "wet" Minister there may be "wet" planted questions and, if vice versa, they may come from the other element? This is not just a matter of the Opposition versus the Government. A lot depends on which section of the Tory party is doing the planting. It may be in the interests of some Tory Ministers to get questions in advance from some of their friends, as opposed to some of their enemies, on the Tory Benches.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Question No. 37, which asks about the implications of a European Commission decision for energy policy, was previously oral Question No. 4 to the Secretary of State for Energy. I accept that Ministers are entitled to transfer questions when they are clearly addressed to the wrong person, but I cannot see how the Chancellor can be responsible for making a statement about implications for energy policy. I apologise for not giving notice of my intention to raise this, but I came along expecting to ask my Question No. 4 and discovered that it had been transferred, although it is clearly about energy policy. Is there any protection that you, Mr. Speaker, can give?

The transfer of questions is a matter for the Ministers concerned, but as VAT is a matter for the Chancellor, that is no doubt why the hon. Gentleman's question was transferred. On the general matter, it is normal for Ministers to link questions up to No. 25, but I also do my best to ensure that hon. Members with similar questions are called, as happened today. [Interruption.] I cannot call everyone.