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Energy Efficiency

Volume 471: debated on Thursday 31 January 2008

3. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on increasing energy efficiency in the poorest households. (178857)

Improving energy efficiency in the poorest households is very important in tackling fuel poverty. Our latest annual progress report sets out the action that we are taking across Government, including through the Warm Front programme and the energy efficiency commitment.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I know that he thinks climate change is as important as I do. In that respect, the Warm Front and Warm Deal schemes, both introduced by the Labour party, have provided financial support and help for efficiency improvements in well over 1 million households in this country.

However, what assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the calls from the Government-sponsored Fuel Poverty Advisory Group for an extra £500 million to improve the Warm Front scheme? Will he ensure that the knock-on effect will get to the people on the Warm Deal programme in Scotland, and will not go into the Scottish Executive budget to be hidden away, as happened in respect of disabled children?

Funding for the Warm Deal programme is a matter for the Scottish Executive. As for funding in England targeted at those on low incomes, if we take together the investment that we will make in Warm Front and what will come from the new carbon emissions reduction target—which is double the energy efficiency commitment, or EEC—we will, over the next three years, invest £2.3 billion in dealing with the problem raised by my hon. Friend. That is an increase of £680 million compared with the previous spending review period.

The Secretary of State may be aware of many Members’ concern that the prices quoted for schemes under the grants administered by the Energy Action Grants Agency, or EAGA, are far higher than those that a local contractor would deliver for the same scheme. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of that issue and its impact on the overall budgets to deliver the objectives?

I am aware of those concerns. The scheme is audited and assessed to make sure that we get value for money. Having looked at some of the cases in a bit of detail, I think that we have to consider whether we are comparing like with like. Under the Warm Front programme, there is a follow-up service and so on, which may not apply in the case of local contractors bidding to do similar work. It is important that we compare like with like, but I share the hon. Gentleman’s desire to ensure that we get every penny of value from the money we put in.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Warm Front programme is available only to pensioners and disabled people; many other people in poverty do not have access to Warm Front grants. The grants are available for central heating boilers only when they have failed; they are not available to replace old and inefficient boilers. Surely it is in the best interests of poorer people, the economy as a whole and tackling climate change that inefficient boilers in all the homes of those on the lowest incomes should be available for grant aid.

My hon. Friend has raised an important point about the need to improve the energy efficiency of home heating. In addition to the Warm Front scheme and the help that it provides, we are increasing, through the carbon emissions reduction target, the requirement on energy companies to encourage and support home owners to improve their energy efficiency.

The issue raises a fundamental point about what more we can do to ensure that energy efficiency and therefore carbon emissions from domestic households improve. Although from 2016 we will deal with new houses through the zero-carbon homes policy, we have an existing stock of about 25 million or 26 million homes for which a lot more could be done. The launch of the green homes service in April this year will provide a lot more advice for householders on the steps that they can take.

People are not worried only about the value for money of EAGA’s contracts: is the Secretary of State aware that the agency has been charging low-income households up to £800 to access the Government grants? Having paid that money last autumn, some low-income households have been told that they will not get their new heating until later this year, after the winter. Is the Secretary of State aware of that, and if so, what is he doing about it?

When the hon. Gentleman says that people are being charged to access the grant, is he referring to the fact that the grant is available up to a certain amount and that any work that is then required above and beyond that has to be contributed to by the household? If so, we have always known that that is the case, because the grant provides support up to a certain level. If he is talking about something else and has particular cases in mind, will he bring them to my attention so that I can look at them?

May I turn my right hon. Friend’s attention to electrical efficiency within the domestic scene and, again, to low-energy light bulbs, which the Government wish to introduce? Has he had any discussions with the Society of Light and Lighting about the power factor of low-energy light bulbs, which has to be at a level of 0.9 in order to make them effective? Any power factor in excess of that level—some bulbs on sale now have a factor of three times that—means that the bulb is burning power at three times the rating at which it is sold. For example, if it is 10 W, it will burn power at the rate of 30 to 40 W and is therefore not a low-energy light bulb at all. Will my right hon. Friend discuss those issues with the society?

The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), who just answered the question about low-energy light bulbs, is in contact with that organisation, and I have no doubt that she will pursue the point that my hon. Friend has raised.