Skip to main content

Domestic Buildings (Energy Efficiency)

Volume 493: debated on Thursday 4 June 2009

3. What recent assessment he has made of the energy efficiency of domestic and commercial buildings in the UK; and if he will make a statement. (277920)

The energy efficiency of individual domestic and non-domestic buildings is assessed primarily through energy performance certificates, which are required for all buildings when constructed, sold or let. The heat and energy saving consultation, published in February, sought evidence about energy efficiency in non-domestic buildings and asked for views on potential policy responses. We are now considering the responses to the consultation.

Is it not a fact that between 1997 and the present day there has been hardly any improvement in household energy efficiency in the United Kingdom, according to ODEX, the index that measures these matters, and is it not a fact that in the preceding period—the years leading up to 1997—there was a 14 per cent. increase in household energy efficiency? What is it about this Government that has destroyed the improvement, as measured by the internationally accepted standard?

This country has a long history of poorly insulated buildings, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, goes back many generations. The Government are making a real effort to ensure that much more attention is paid to insulation. We have already insulated 5 million buildings in the domestic sector as a consequence of our carbon emissions reduction target provisions and the obligations on energy companies. Our current programme will lead to the insulation of a further 6 million buildings, and, as I said earlier, we have introduced energy performance certificates. We have the green homes service, run by the Energy Saving Trust, and we have the Act On CO2 helpline.

There are many, many strategies in place, and we are making improvements. People are saving money as a result of our policies, and they are lowering their carbon emissions. However, we accept that there is much more to be done. We recently engaged in a major consultation on a heat and energy saving strategy, which will bring about improvements in millions of houses over the next few years.

May I ask that our best wishes and congratulations be passed to the Secretary of State, his partner and their extended family on the birth of their little boy?

Ministers know that so far we have performed very poorly in relation to energy efficiency in domestic properties. According to a ministerial answer, only one in 100 homes meets the required standards. The Minister has just referred to the range of existing programmes. Will she reaffirm the importance of the leadership of the European Union and the European Parliament in pushing forward energy efficiency? Given that this is also local election day, will she consider our proposal for the establishment of a single central Government agency to bring all the policies together, and for local councils across the United Kingdom to roll out a programme—arranged locally, but supported by national Government—to ensure that every home is a warm home within 10 years?

The Government are always happy to consider any proposals on these issues from any of the Opposition parties. If the hon. Gentleman examines the heat and energy saving strategy, he will see that it includes options that are not dissimilar to his proposal. As I have said, we believe that we need much greater drive and much more co-ordination. We have learned from many of the programmes that will come on stream in the autumn. The community energy saving programme will enable us for the first time to deal with the areas in greatest need, house by house and street by street. It will give us a basis on which to introduce programmes that will make the whole population energy-efficient over the next couple of decades.

We are very clear about the fact that by 2015 every cavity and loft that it is appropriate to insulate will have been insulated, and 7 million homes will have had a complete eco-makeover by 2020. That is a very positive programme. We will continue to keep everything under review. We need to do as much as we can, because the emissions from our homes constitute about 27 per cent. of total carbon emissions. We absolutely must get to grips with this sector. We shall need more co-operation and involvement on the part of the public at large, and I hope that all parties will play their part in helping that process.

I commend the Minister for her efforts, but will she accept that a major part of the energy expended by a building during its life cycle is expended during its construction, and that the vilification of older property—particularly antique property—that is not capable of being double-glazed or cavity wall-insulated as part of the home information pack process is rather unfortunate?

In this country, we have many historic and listed buildings. We are endeavouring to find ways both to preserve the fabric of historic buildings and to improve their energy efficiency. The Government have provided £1 million for ongoing work with the Energy Saving Trust. We know that we must achieve both those aims, and we are committed to ensuring that we do so. While that work is being undertaken, however, as the vast majority of homes in this country are more than capable of receiving standard measures, the most important thing we can do is both encourage people to get on with the work and continue with the Government programmes that give financial assistance and oblige energy companies to ensure that those homes that can be easily insulated are quickly insulated in advance of next winter.

I hope the Minister will also pass on my very warmest best wishes to the Secretary of State and his partner.

In the Minister’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), she put her finger on the nub of the issue when she said that there are “many, many strategies in place”, because the fact of the matter is that the Government’s approach to energy efficiency is fragmented and confused. We have social energy tariffs, energy performance certificates, the decent homes standard, Warm Front, winter fuel payments, the low-carbon buildings programme, the carbon emissions reduction target, new building regulations, warm zones, the community energy saving programme, Fuel Direct, the green homes service and fuel poverty targets. No wonder the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said:

“There’s a lot…out there…but it’s hard to know where to start.”

Given that the Government are now totally paralysed and Ministers’ minds are clearly focused elsewhere, is it not clear that they are never going to get to grips with energy efficiency, and that the bottom line is that the lights are on, but nobody’s home?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his amusing contribution. I am also most grateful to him for having listed so many of the Government’s programmes, and I hope the House is impressed by the extent of our work and our focus on these issues. The fact of the matter is that many programmes are required, because it is essential to involve many sectors and to have different approaches. We believe that there is scope for bringing approaches together—that is in the current consultation, which I recommend that the hon. Gentleman reads. I also thank him and the Liberal Front-Bench spokesman for their kind words about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.