I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of progress and prospects in energy efficiency.
Within the first days of taking office, the Prime Minister pledged to make this new coalition the greenest Government ever, and we are determined to deliver on that promise. Energy efficiency, the subject of today’s debate, is at the very heart of our greening programme. Better energy efficiency offers a genuine win-win, because it not only enhances the competitiveness of our economy, but is good for the environment in cutting carbon emissions. It is good for energy security in reducing our reliance on imported fossil fuels, and it is good for hard-pressed families, saving them money currently wasted heating inefficient and cold homes. Energy efficiency is not just a means to an end; it is a great thing in itself. In these times of rising bills and tight family budgets, there is one overarching simple truth: the cheapest energy we all have to pay for is the energy we do not use.
President Obama has gone even further. He recently said:
“Insulation is sexy stuff...Here’s what’s sexy about it: saving money”.
In our own way—a more modest way—we are determined to make it sexy too, because for too long, energy efficiency has been the poor relation of British energy policy. Too many politicians have talked the talk, but failed to deliver. Energy efficiency has too frequently been relegated to the fluffy optional extra end of the energy policy agenda. Energy efficiency, however, is the key benchmark of a globally competitive 21st century economy.
Yet on the key test of energy efficiency, the UK currently trails behind most of our European competitors and risks slipping even further behind. If Members pardon the pun, we lag behind Germany, Holland, Spain and Italy, to name but a few. The average British home uses more energy than a home in Sweden—a country partly within the Arctic circle. One in five of our homes still has the lowest energy-efficiency rating.
On the point of energy efficiency in comparison with Sweden, I understand that there is considerable use of heat pumps—both ground source and air source heat pumps—in Sweden. The previous Government gave assistance for the installation of heat pumps; will this Government continue in that vein?
We are very keen on heat pumps, but those pumps are not an energy-efficiency device; they are a renewable-energy device. Today, we are obviously concerned primarily about energy efficiency, but I take the hon. Gentleman’s point on board, and we are certainly keen to encourage the use of a diverse range of new renewable technologies.
And the hon. Gentleman would be absolutely right to do so.
Looking beyond homes, about one in 10 of our businesses and public buildings has a G rating and fewer than one in 100 has an A rating. Something must change, and it has got to change big and change now. But here is the good news: the UK has the potential to lead the way on energy efficiency, and our transformational agenda is a huge commercial opportunity worth billions of pounds for British business, with the potential for new jobs, technology and innovation in every single part of the UK. The challenge for our new Government is to spur consumers and businesses to take action, because, to date, successive Government programmes have simply failed to engage on the scale that we need. Some progress has been made in recent years, and I do not belittle the good intentions of the previous Administration, but despite some interesting initiatives, nothing we have seen so far has been commensurate with the enormous size of the challenge we face.
I have received a letter from Mr Cameron Holroyd of Kingspan Solar in my constituency, which manufactures solar panels. He is very concerned that the new Government have not yet stated publicly whether they intend to proceed with the renewables heat obligation. Can the Minister tell us when he will respond to the recent consultation, and thereby give firms in my constituency, and consumers who may be planning to invest, some sort of comfort that that support will go ahead?
Renewable heat is a renewable form of generation; it is not equivalent to energy efficiency. However, we are committed to an ambitious renewable heat agenda. We have a challenging renewable energy target and renewable heat will be a key part of that. We will be looking at how to move forward and at having the right incentives in place. Because we are aware of the concerns of businesses, such as the one the hon. Lady mentions in her constituency, we will be making an announcement on this as soon as possible.
I welcome the Minister to his position. He has taken a long and careful interest in the matters for which he has responsibility, and I welcome his enthusiasm. So far in this debate, however, he has been quick to parry any questions that are not specifically about energy efficiency and has responded in a very constrained manner. If we are to have the debate that all of us would wish this afternoon, we need to be able to discuss the energy context in which it takes place and the broader financial measures that will be available to the industry in the future, in order to consider the wider aspects of the green deal the Minister has talked about.
Obviously, I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s comments, and he is an expert in this field, but the key point I made at the beginning of my speech is that energy efficiency has always been the poor relation and that all too often people leap to discuss other, perhaps more sexy, matters such as heat pumps, the renewables heat incentive or renewable energy. While I want a full debate—and, of course, I will answer the hon. Gentleman’s questions as best I can—I also want to focus the discussion on energy efficiency, because it is the most important and the best value-for-money consideration in terms of saving carbon.
That is an important target. We are committed to carbon neutrality, and I know that my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government are looking to see if there is any room for making the target more effective. Perhaps I may write to the hon. Gentleman with the very latest on that?
The Minister and I served together on the Environmental Audit Committee a few years ago. Will he comment on the future of the boiler scrappage scheme, a tremendous energy-efficiency measure that has been very successfully delivered, and will he look at the possibility of extending the scheme to cover gas fires? A company in my constituency produces very energy-efficient gas fires. If we were to support it, we would see real progress not only in boiler scrappage, but in the scrappage of other lower performing products such as wasteful gas fires.
The hon. Gentleman is right: the boiler scrappage scheme was highly effective. Although it was not a large scheme, it was both very good and very timely, and I will be closely examining whether we ought to take it further. I know that the hon. Gentleman has expertise on this, and if he would like to talk to me about it, I would be very grateful for the opportunity to pick his brains.
Order. May I interrupt the Minister to try to help a new Member? I very gently say to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) that whatever gifts and traits the Minister possesses, he does not have eyes in the back of his head, so if the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene, it is not enough simply to stand; he must make himself audible.
Thank you for your advice, Mr Speaker.
My hon. Friend has talked about energy saving on the continent, and one thing that they do very well there is install central boilers for different sorts of energy generation when constructing new housing developments. That must be done at the planning stage, of course, so that the amount of hot water going to each house can be metered and households can then pay for their own supply, but central boilers can produce savings of up to 50%. Will my hon. Friend the Minister consider that option?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I am very interested in such matters, and think there is far greater scope for us to be much more ambitious in terms of community combined heat and power. Such a decentralised energy agenda offers huge scope in Britain. However, for a variety of reasons, both local as well as central Government ones, we have not pushed it. In countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark, however, community combined heat and power make up a substantial part of energy output. As my hon. Friend says, it is much more efficient and I assure him we are looking into it.
As I have said, despite some interesting initiatives in recent years, nothing is commensurate with the enormous size of the challenge we face. The reality is that we still have a multi-billion pound investment gap. It is hardly surprising, however, that progress has been patchy. Since 1997, we have had a veritable alphabet soup of acronyms, schemes and quangos, leaving both the consumer and business somewhat bewildered: EEC, CERT, CESP, LCIF, EST, LCCC, CT, ETF, CRC and CCA. The list goes on and on, and each scheme is accompanied by new pamphlets, advertising and messages, further complicating the landscape for confused consumers and businesses. Individually, all those schemes have merit, but taken together they have failed to deliver on the scale that we need. The fact is that we need to pick up the pace dramatically if we are to reach the remaining 14 million households in the UK within a meaningful time scale.
It is clear that in these difficult times, with a record deficit, the current model is simply not up to the scale of the task. We need a game changer. We must remove the blinkers that have constrained previous policy thinking. We need to bring in new models of installation, innovation to drive down costs, new financing methods and new players to the market to deliver on a far more ambitious scale.
On innovation, the Minister will respect the fact that coal remains a vital part of our energy requirement for the future. When the Prime Minister was Leader of the Opposition, he promised to create four carbon capture and storage-equipped power plants. Will the Minister give us a quick update on progress, and perhaps a timetable for that, because it plays a major part in the objectives he wishes to reach?
My hon. Friend is an expert in this field. He is chair of the all-party group on clean coal, so I speak with respect for his expertise. He is right to say that the coalition Government are committed to carbon capture and storage, which will be a major plank in our efforts to decarbonise our energy supply by 2030; we are committed to the generation of 5 GW of CCS by 2020. We see the potential of CCS, not just for our domestic use and as part of our plan to decarbonise the economy, but as a huge potential export industry for the UK in which we can not only capture new markets for British jobs, but help the world in striving to decarbonise the global economy.
My hon. Friend talks about game changers, so may I recommend another important one, which will cost him not a penny? We could move our clocks forward by one hour to take advantage of the last bit of energy that we have in this world—the sun. It seems completely wrong that our working day is out of alignment with that free energy source. I am happy to provide him with a copy of a study showing the benefits, which would include Scotland too.
That is a very interesting point. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) will be introducing a private Member’s Bill to that effect, in order to test the opinion of the House on this matter. I do not believe that that subject was covered in the coalition agreement, so I am sorry but I cannot give any commitment on it.
I shall make a little progress before I take further interventions.
The Government want to end short-term, stop-start schemes. We need a bold long-term approach that will deliver certainty and stability, and will unlock private capital and trigger green investment right across the economy. We must give businesses the confidence to invest, not just in the infrastructure of our buildings, but in developing new skills and training programmes in order to help create the thousands of new jobs that could follow. These would be jobs that could provide decent salaries to support families and build careers of which people could be proud. We must empower British business, not burden it. We must use smart legislation to incentivise the wealth creators and the innovators. Local firms and enterprising local communities must be encouraged to be part of the new solution.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way to me for a second time. On his point about innovation and local firms, may I say that Logicor Ltd, a firm in my constituency, has developed a plug that automatically turns off after a set period of time? When people iron for three quarters of an hour or an hour—or, in my case, five minutes—the plug will then automatically turn off, so there is no danger of someone forgetting about the iron, leaving it on and potentially setting their house on fire. Such appliances have huge potential to make energy and financial savings for homes, be it through turning off the light on someone’s microwave or the light on their dishwasher—those devices also use energy. Small companies face the problem of obtaining certification through the carbon emissions reduction target—CERT—scheme and huge issues relating to cash flow, because if they are going to manufacture in China, they have to save, pay the bills up front and then get the money back. How does the Minister propose to provide real help on this? Will he work with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that small companies such as Logicor Ltd can be given the financial support to deliver these energy-efficient products to the nation?
That is an excellent subject for an Adjournment debate, but perhaps we have just had it. I entirely accept the hon. Lady’s point, but ultimately the private sector is the best engine of ingenuity and growth, and it is not the role of Government to pick winners such as that company and give them special treatment. However, I agree that there is a role for Government in creating an enabling, encouraging and supportive framework for enterprise. I can assure her that increased cross-cutting work has been taking place across Government, involving colleagues from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Treasury and the Department for Education, to ensure that the right frameworks and the appropriate support are in place.
I shall now draw the House back to my speech. What needs to change? As a first step, I am announcing today my intention not only to extend CERT, but to refocus it radically. It obliges energy companies to carry out energy-efficiency measures in people’s homes and it has historically involved a range of other things too. CERT will be extended until the end of 2012, but the original scheme has not been without criticism, much of it justified. So CERT will be refocused on those most cost-effective measures that can make a real difference to the energy efficiency of our constituents’ homes, the most obvious being insulation.
Over the new extension period we will require the big energy companies to deliver far more insulation than originally planned, and the new target on lagging lofts alone will be the equivalent to covering Wembley football pitch more than 35,000 times. The new extension of CERT will work in tandem with the roll-out of our pioneering green deal. In order to bring greater focus to the project, I will insist that more than two thirds of this new carbon target must be delivered through approved, professionally installed loft, cavity wall and solid wall insulation. We will act to stamp out the mistakes of the past. We will introduce a complete ban on the subsidy of compact fluorescent lighting, thereby ending the farce of people having cupboards full of light bulbs which save no energy at all. We will go further. We are actively talking to industry about similar restrictions on other low-value gadgets and appliances. There will be no short cuts or get-outs for the big six under this Government.
I welcome the Minister to his responsibilities. On low-energy light bulbs, he is right to criticise aspects of the CERT scheme, but one promising new development was the inclusion of the replacement of halogen lights, which are extremely energy-inefficient, with new, more efficient forms of technology. I declare an interest, because two companies in my constituency promote alternatives to halogen lighting.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that some very exciting developments are taking place in lighting, not the least of which will be light-emitting diode—LED—technology in the longer term. However, we must be brutal and realistic in the use of CERT; we must opt for the most effective, most value-for-money carbon abatement schemes. That means opting for loft insulation, because any exercise that one chooses to undertake shows that key insulation delivered to our constituents’ homes offers the best value for money and the best use in terms of carbon abatement. We have to be far more focused on that. I checked how many light bulbs had been distributed as a result of the previous CERT scheme and I found that the answer was a phenomenal number. This begs the old question of how many light bulbs it takes to change a Labour Government—the answer turned out to be 262 million.
A vast number of light bulbs were sent out, but does the Minister deny that that was an appropriate action to take at a time when the low-energy light bulbs on the supermarket shelves were far more expensive than ordinary light bulbs and consumers were very resistant to change? We encountered all forms of resistance but, despite that, by sending those low-energy light bulbs out we got them into people’s homes, which saved people money and saved energy and carbon emissions.
The right hon. Lady is right and, of course, this is not a black and white issue. However, the bottom line is that if one has a finite pot of money to spend, light bulbs do not represent the most efficient way to save energy or carbon. As she knows, the most efficient way of doing that is to insulate, particularly given that we need to do so much more for the fuel-poor and there is so much more that we need to do overall. We must be focused, given the finite pot of money available. I do, however, take her point.
I welcome the Minister to the Government. I was delighted by his announcement the CERT scheme will be extended and will concentrate on insulation, but I am sure that he is aware that the National Insulation Association has expressed concern that it is so heavily dependent on the CERT scheme that unless the scheme is extended very soon, its members could well run out of work over the summer. The NIA has asked for the regulations to be passed before the start of the summer recess, so I hope that the Minister will be able to lay these regulations before Parliament before then.
Usually, house construction is a great battle between insulation, as the Minister has mentioned, and ventilation. The part of the world that I come from suffers from having to have the same ventilation standards as an urban area in Kent; the rural west coast of the Outer Hebrides certainly does not need the same amount of ventilation as might perhaps be needed in Kent. However, we are stuck with that and the result—I am sure that the situation is the same in other places in the country—is that once the completion certificate is achieved and received, the house builder goes round with a tube of mastic or silicon and blocks off the vents that have been placed unnecessarily. Perhaps ventilation could be seen as part of the argument for energy efficiency, too.
That is a very good point. I think that my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government would have direct ministerial responsibility for that point, but it is worth while, and if the hon. Gentleman would care to write to me about it I would be happy to take it up.
We will go further. We are also talking to industry about similar restrictions on other low-value gadgets and appliances. All these new measures are specifically designed to do more for the fuel-poor, because we fully recognise that fuel poverty is a growing challenge, with the number of households in fuel poverty having risen every year since 2004, to 4.6 million households in England alone in 2009. Given that legacy of rising fuel poverty, we are creating a new CERT category of those who have the greatest need, in addition to the priority group of vulnerable households, which will already account for at least 40% of the total CERT extension measures. Pensioners, people with children and the disabled will form a super-priority group on whom at least 15% of the new programme must be targeted. That means that more than £400 million will be focused over the next 18 months on the poorest and most vulnerable.
Would the Minister be good enough to clarify whether, when he says families with children, he means all families with children or whether he is talking about families that are in receipt of working families tax credit and so on? Is it targeted specifically at the poor or will it include all families with children?
It is targeted at all people with children—that is, at all households where there are young children and where income is low. I would be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with further details. We will need to bring these measures to the House, and perhaps we could debate that point then.
Does the hon. Gentleman intend to provide any additional facilities for ensuring that the extra categories that he has mentioned that will be a part of CERT can be identified by those energy companies that are required to identify them to and take action, or is the 15% target that he has suggested an approximation based on what the energy companies actually do?
The hon. Gentleman will know that data sharing is a very difficult issue, to which there is no easy ready answer. I do not underestimate it—any attempt to focus in such a way is in some way problematic, given the sometimes limited tools that we have and the restrictions on sharing data. We are considering that project in the Department, because we realise that data sharing poses real challenges. All I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that we will use our best endeavours and, if he has interesting and innovative ideas on how we can make it effective, we will try to frame them in the regulations that we will table before the House rises. I fully take his point on board; data sharing to ensure that we target the most vulnerable is a challenge.
Will the Minister outline whether people in receipt of the higher disability living allowance, who often have impaired mobility, will be included in the super-priority group that he has just mentioned, as they often have a greater need of heating?
I am very happy to confirm that for my hon. Friend, who takes a keen interest in these matters. I can also confirm, in response to the question that I was asked earlier about children, that we will focus on those in receipt of child tax credits whose income is less than £16,190.
Given the importance that the Minister rightly attaches to fuel poverty and the categories that he has said should be prioritised, does he believe that 15% will be adequate? If, in the context of spending pressures, the budget for the overall programme is cut, will he enhance their prioritisation by going above 15% of his residual budget?
Of course, CERT is an obligation on the fuel companies and is not part of the Treasury tax and spending regime as such. It will not be included in the comprehensive spending review. I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, given that we want to focus on the fuel-poor and that 15% seems a relatively limited amount of money. That is why, as I am going to say—he is pre-empting my speech—when we come to consider the long-term basis for the right form of supplier obligation when CERT ends at the end of 2012, we will need to ensure that it is effectively focused on the most vulnerable households and on the fuel-poor. That will be the key consideration when we are looking to frame a new and appropriate supplier obligation.
As I have said, the green deal is a real game changer. It takes policy out of Whitehall and on to the high street. The green deal is a dramatic change from the status quo. The green deal, we believe, will fundamentally alter the scale of delivery. In terms of scale, to put it in context, the green deal is even more ambitious than Mrs Thatcher’s sale of council houses in the 1980s. Whereas that transformed the lives of about 2 million families, the green deal has the potential to touch more than 14 million homes around the country. Now, there can be no one-size-fits-all model. Our green deal legislation must promote the emergence of a new and dynamic market, working for the incredibly diverse mix of homes in the UK. There must be greater consumer choice, but with a recognition of the need for fairness and, in particular, of the urgent and pressing challenges of fuel poverty.
The green deal will, we believe, unlock billions in new private capital to support energy efficiency, but that will not work effectively without the engagement and support of local communities. Local communities have a key role in driving this ambitious change. We have seen that in Kirklees, where community engagement has been vital for a universal take-up.
The Kirklees example is an excellent one, and Green councillors have been instrumental in that. They were rolling out free insulation—that was the difference; it was free. Where does the hon. Gentleman think that the money will come from for the Government to be able to roll out such a scheme? Does he agree that we ought to be considering mechanisms such as levying a windfall tax on the energy companies, given that they will be getting windfall profits from their involvement in the emissions trading scheme—at least until 2013? Should we not be using money like that to enable such a scheme to be rolled out to everybody rather than depending on people in poor households having to take out what looks like a loan?
First, I welcome the hon. Lady to the debate. I am sure that she will be a key—and welcome—feature of such debates for the rest of the Parliament. Of course, CERT is already a levy on the energy companies and we have a clear idea of where the money is coming from. She mentions that in Kirklees the scheme is free, and that is an important point. We simply cannot afford to give free insulation to the whole country, even though it worked extremely well in Kirklees. However, through legislation and opening up new markets with new regulation, we can ensure that there is no cost up front to every single householder. Unlike other pay-as-you-save schemes that were trialled by the former Government, there will be no reference to the credit score of the household. It will not be a personal loan, a green mortgage or a charge on the property.
What will happen is that the right interventions for that particular property will be delivered and the costs of those interventions will be rolled up in their entirety and repaid through the energy bill for that property over 25 years. If that owner moves away, the cost will simply transfer to the energy bill of the next occupant. If the occupant changes energy company, the cost will simply transfer to the new energy company. We will make sure, through legislation, that it is impossible for a new energy provider to come in and provide energy without taking on the costs associated with the green deal finance. There is a real golden rule.
I will give way.
We cannot guarantee that this will be the case in all instances, because behaviour change is also relevant, but the guiding principle is that the savings in every household that receives such interventions on the pay-as-you-save model must always be greater than the financing costs. The householder, be they in rented or private accommodation, should see not only an increase in the insulation in their home, a reduction in their carbon emissions and an increase in warmth and quality of life for them and their family, but—and this is an important point—a reduction in their total energy bill. That needs to be put clearly and fairly on the bill. We must scotch the idea that the green deal is a loan, a mortgage or a charge, because it is not, and it is really important, in order to get consumer confidence, that we communicate that message.
I thank the Minister for giving way. I hear what he says, but is not the danger, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) has said, that this will be seen as a loan? Will the most vulnerable people, in particular, who find themselves indebted from a whole range of loans, not see it at as one more loan and choose not to take it?
No; I hope that by the time we have finished explaining it properly and getting over this new paradigm, it will not be seen as a loan because it is not a loan. I hope that the hon. Gentleman—and, indeed, all Members—will join me in explaining that to our constituents. This is a really fundamental point, because he is absolutely right that if people perceive it as a loan, which it is not, there will be a reluctance to take it up, particularly in the current environment. There is another element. We accept that for the poorest in society, who cannot make the savings because they do not have the cash to heat their homes in the first place, there will be a need for direct subsidy or intervention. It is on those people and the hard-to-treat homes that we want to focus the ongoing obligation on the energy suppliers.
The final point that the Minister made is particularly important, but let me go back to the main point about the up-front funding costs of installing the energy-efficiency measures. Will he confirm that although those costs will be met through the energy companies, the Government will none the less have to guarantee those costs? Will he confirm that the cost of that guarantee to the public finances could be in the region of £162 billion if every family in the country took up the Prime Minister’s offer of the £6,500 limit?
I am happy to reassure the hon. Gentleman that no such guarantee is involved or required. I have had extensive meetings not only with the chief executives of energy companies, but with very senior members of the banking community, active participants in the capital markets and retailers such as Marks and Spencer, B&Q, which has been extremely supportive, and others, including installers. Across the industry—in financing, instalment and retail—there is universal acceptance of this model and there will be innovation in the capital markets. Some companies will choose to take the charge on to their balance sheets, but others will choose to participate in partnership with a financing company. I think there will be a real appetite among UK institutions—this is the game-changing element—to purchase what will in effect be a form of bond with a 25-year life. I think they will be securitised together and parcelled up, and will then make attractive investments for UK pension funds, which currently suffer from a relatively limited choice of secure, long-term investments from which to fund their annuities. I can guarantee for the hon. Gentleman that, just as the green deal is not a personal loan, mortgage or charge, nor will it sit on the Government balance sheet or require a Government guarantee.
To make sure that the customer makes a net profit out of green deal investment, the Minister will presumably have to categorise what will be admissible for green deal insulations. If he categorises any form of microgeneration as admissible, as increasingly it is under Warm Front, he will have to make those calculations in the green deal programme in respect of any incentives that might be given for the use of that heat, in particular for insulation such as solar-thermal. Has he therefore excluded microgeneration from the green deal programme? If so, does that mean that the net amount per household that he would imagine being used with the green deal is much lower than the £6,500 suggested prior to the election?
It has never been the intention for the green deal to encompass, in its purest form, microgeneration, for which there is the separate support mechanism of feed-in tariffs. We will look closely at those tariffs to ensure that they are appropriate. We want to drive a far greater sense of ambition around microgeneration than was anticipated in the Energy Act 2010, which was passed in the previous Parliament. We are keen and ambitious for microgeneration, but I do not want it to be confused with the green deal, which is about energy efficiency, so it will not be included in that. However, we hope that providers that insulate homes under the financing of the green deal will, as I have outlined, take that opportunity to offer packages for appropriate microgeneration that also might not require any up-front payment because they are supported by a feed-in tariff.
It is important to stress the priority of energy efficiency over microgeneration, because there is no real point in adding microgeneration systems to energy-inefficient homes, but there is a great deal of sense in adding them at the same time as increasing energy efficiency. Of course, that would also require a smart meter. I hope that this package of measures will be available under the green deal umbrella, but the green deal financing we have been discussing and the £6,500 are for energy-efficiency measures. There is nothing magic about the £6,500 figure, but we had to come up with a figure and there has to be a cut-off point. We reached the figure with the help of BRE, but we might consider increasing it when proposed legislation comes before the House if that proves sensible. However, £6,500 is what we are committed to now. We hope that the game-changing nature of the new deal, the involvement of new players and the creation of new markets and financing tools will create a host of opportunities as well as driving real behaviour change.
I am listening quite closely to what the Minister says about insulation, carbon footprints and new financing. Is he saying that when it comes to the householder paying, they will not be facing any higher than average bills in any particular year than they would have faced had they not entered the green deal? It is quite important that people fully understand. Is the Minister saying that bills should go down and that householders should not experience any greater costs than they had prior to entering the green deal?
That is what I am saying, with the caveat that there are two big variables, the first of which is behaviour change. If someone decides, in their newly insulated home, to turn up the dial and hoover in the nude, that will affect the energy bill. Likewise, if there is a spike in oil prices or a surge in gas or electricity prices, that will affect bills. On an equalised basis, assuming there is no major behaviour change, the assumption in the model we are working on will be that the financing costs will always be less than the overall costs of installation.
Our ambition goes way beyond just household energy efficiency. Households, businesses, industry and the public sector all need to pull together to achieve the change that we need. For businesses, energy efficiency can make sense provided that they are not constrained by unnecessary bureaucracy. The green deal will apply to businesses too, and especially to small and medium-sized enterprises. It has the potential to help many companies improve not only their green credentials but their bank balances and their overall competitiveness.
I want our reforms to take energy efficiency away from the corporate social responsibility managers and plant it firmly on the desk of Britain’s finance controllers. Pioneers in this area are already demonstrating that energy efficiency makes real sense for business. To pick just one example, Marks and Spencer made a saving of £50 million last year alone through energy-efficiency measures. It is just one of thousands of progressive British businesses that realise that energy efficiency has a direct impact on profitability.
Marks and Spencer launched Plan A in January 2007, in which it set out 100 commitments to achieve in five years and the aim of improving fuel efficiency by more than 20%. Critical to Plan A has been genuine and consistent leadership from the very top of the organisation. Providing leadership from Government Departments is a responsibility that we cannot shirk, and that is why the new Prime Minister has committed the coalition to cutting emissions from central Government Departments by 10% in just 12 months. I am pleased to inform the House that work is well under way, but the 10% cut in Whitehall is just the starting point. We are engaged in a major, long-term drive to reduce emissions and save energy costs right across the wider public sector, which alone accounts for 3% of total UK carbon emissions.
The public can watch our progress: all Government Departments are now committed to publishing their energy use online and in real time. Seventeen Departments will publish energy consumption data for their headquarters buildings by the end of July, following the first meeting of the new cross-departmental energy committee. However, I am pleased to say that the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice have already made their energy-use information available online and in real time. We have also asked the private sector to join Ministers in this cross-cutting group, so that we can hold Departments to account and ensure that we learn the very best practice from business. This Government are determined to get our house in shape in short order, and we are already delivering clearer leadership, greater transparency and real change.
I am grateful to the Minister for his support of the 10:10 campaign, which aims for 10% cuts in 2010. However, he will know that the campaign will not finish at the end of 2010 and that, if we are serious about tackling climate change, we need 10% cuts year on year thereafter. Can he make any statement now about what will happen at the end of 2010?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The important thing about our 10% cut is that it is a commitment made by the Prime Minister and it is being driven from the very top in government. She is absolutely right that 10% in one year is simply not enough, but it will be a terrific shock to the system in Whitehall and a great start. In the committee of which I am a member, and which is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I have been very clear that it is only a starting point.
Achieving such reductions will get progressively more difficult, because behaviour change and the simple interventions that can be made at first cannot be repeated once they have been done. The task will require investment, but we are confident that most of that investment will pay for itself. The new models of investment—involving the energy services companies and the private sector, as well as enlightened and progressive facilities management contracts—mean that the cost of the infrastructure changes that will be needed will not necessarily fall on the public purse.
We are pushing very hard to draw in expertise from the private sector, and I am glad to say that that is largely being provided on a pro bono basis. We want to ensure that the Government, instead of being a national embarrassment, become a showcase for the best in British energy conservation. It is not at all impossible that, if we attach renewable energy sources to our estate, the public sector could one day become a net exporter of energy. Those are lofty ambitions and strategies but we will not superimpose arbitrary targets on them. There have been too many targets cluttering the landscape in the past. We know what we have to do, and the best thing that we can do is to get on and do it.
The potential benefits of energy efficiency are absolutely clear. This coalition Government are committed to making the UK a leader in energy efficiency, and to doing so with a completely new level of ambition and at a scale never before attempted. We are radically improving and refocusing existing policy measures, and we plan to bring forward completely new measures to deliver a real step change in ambition and delivery across both households and the business sector.
However, I would say this to the Opposition: there is much that unites us on this whole agenda, and we are building on the work begun by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) and her Front-Bench colleague, the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry). The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives supported the Climate Change Act 2008 in a constructive spirit, and I hope that we can forge a new consensus across the new House of Commons on energy efficiency and tackling fuel poverty. We should send a strong and united message to business and consumers alike that the time for action is now, and that we are united in laying out a new and clear framework for the long term.
I am glad to report that the new coalition has hit the ground running. We have a strong and ambitious green agenda, with energy efficiency at its very heart. The green deal will be at the centre of this Session’s flagship Energy Bill, along with other measures to drive low-carbon transformation and build energy security. It is clear from the Chancellor’s Budget, which committed to introducing a floor price for carbon, and yesterday’s publication of the work of the green investment bank commission, that we are making real progress already. There is a great deal more to do, and time for action is short, but I know that, by focusing on energy efficiency at the very outset, we are starting in the right place.
I begin by welcoming the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), to his new position. I am sure that he will find it as stimulating and rewarding as I did.
This debate is entitled “Progress and Prospects in Energy Efficiency”, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to record the very considerable progress made by the Labour Government over the past 13 years. Today, the Minister of State announced his plans for the carbon emissions reductions target scheme, but I have to remind the House that I announced in 2009 that there would be an extension of the scheme to 2012. I also announced that the new scheme would have an insulation minimum, and that there would be a super-priority group that would receive benefits from the scheme. I also announced that there would be an end to fluorescent bulbs—so I congratulate the Minister on following through on all the things that I said would happen a year ago.
I am glad that the Minister intends to lay the statutory instrument as soon as possible. It was, of course, the advent of a general election that made it impossible for the previous Government to proceed with that. Overall, however, he is of course fortunate to have such a good framework on which to lay his future plans, and I am grateful to him for the acknowledgment that he just gave. Labour’s Climate Change Act 2008 led the world in establishing the first national legal limits on greenhouse gas emissions, and I share the Minister’s pleasure at the fact that it finally achieved an all-party consensus.
Energy efficiency is central to addressing both climate change and energy security. That is why, in September 2008, we announced the home energy saving programme, a package worth £1 billion. We did so, of course, for exactly the reasons that the hon. Gentleman has outlined. There is no disputing the failure to build well-insulated homes in this country, but at no time was the situation worse than under the previous Conservative Government, when Mrs Thatcher’s ban on council house building drove people who could not afford to buy into decrepit private sector housing with the lowest possible insulation standards. I regret to say that history is about to repeat itself, with housing benefit changes certain to drive already poor standards down further. Will the Minister regulate private landlords, as we planned to do, to ensure that privately rented accommodation is properly insulated?
In 1999, we inherited a £19 billion backlog of repairs to public housing. No such legacy exists today. Our decent homes standard has resulted in 95% of England’s social housing stock reaching decent homes standard, with considerable improvements in energy efficiency. As a result, social housing today is more energy-efficient than housing in general.
Furthermore, Budget 2009 announced £100 million of funding for local authorities to deliver new energy-efficient homes, and “Building Britain’s Future” announced up to £250 million for direct development by councils of around 3,000 new energy-efficient homes. Will the Minister tell us whether those programmes will go ahead? Or will the draconian cuts in local authority budgets, announced by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, put an end to all the progress made on energy efficiency in the social housing sector? What will happen to local area agreements, under which 97% of local authorities had opted for at least one of our three climate change indicators? What is happening to the £25 million fund to help local authorities support community heating infrastructure? When will the Minister make an announcement on that topic?
We have been told that the Minister for Housing
“is moving quickly to toughen building standards.”
Can the Minister of State tell us how far the plans to tighten those standards will go, and how fast that will happen? What discussions has he had with the construction industry? I remind him that the Labour Government consistently raised building standards. We introduced the code for sustainable homes; a target of a 25% reduction in carbon emissions this year, relative to the 2006 part L building regulations; the target for a 44% reduction in 2013, leading to a zero-carbon standard for new homes in 2016; and a target for zero-carbon non-domestic building by 2019. Does he really think that the Housing Minister can better that?
The Minister of State’s main argument was that reducing energy use is a much greater problem in existing homes than in new homes. That is absolutely obvious. That is why Labour, in government, placed an obligation on energy companies to deliver energy efficiency measures through CERT, including 100% subsidies for the poorest pensioners and low-income families.
When answering an intervention, the Minister said that we could not afford free insulation. He—or his colleague the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry)—may like to clarify that in the winding-up speech, because of course we have been providing free insulation to millions of people through the CERT programme.
It is not that we cannot afford free insulation; I have made it very clear that for vulnerable groups and hard-to-treat homes, there will continue to be a need for free insulation. What we cannot afford is to insulate the homes of the entire population for free. I do not think that it was ever anticipated that CERT would be able to do that job. There is a multibillion-pound black hole in the plans that we were left with by the Labour Government. We need to bring in private capital to fill that gap.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong. Of course the schemes were never intended to provide insulation for every home in the country; we were talking of millions and millions of homes. The fact is that we prioritised getting insulation for the most vulnerable and the poorest, but we also had additional programmes, none of which he has said that he will match today.
The fact is that in the consultation that the right hon. Lady oversaw, it was assumed that 10% of the poorest would be in a super-priority group. We have extended that to 15%, so we have increased by 50% the amount of effectively free insulation that will go to the homes of the most vulnerable. We have not minimised the commitment; we have built and expanded it, so that under our proposals, more money will go to the most vulnerable.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about one small element of one of the programmes. We had a consultation on the subject, and it was perfectly reasonable to move to 15%. The 10% was the starting point. I remind him that the figure in the CERT scheme is 40% anyway; it was uplift on that. There are many other programmes, and I will come on to what is planned in them when I ask the other questions that I think the Government need to be asked, because it would in no way solve the problems if we were left only with CERT.
It is utterly untrue to say that there was a huge black hole. As I shall illustrate, we had plans and programmes set in place to move to a stage beyond 2012. The Minister has not said anything today that will move the programmes of additional work beyond what is already in the pipeline. We insulated 5 million homes between 2002 and 2008. We aimed for another 6 million to be tackled in the 2008 to 2011 programme, which was on target when we left government. We aim to have every cavity and loft, where practicable, insulated by 2015. The Minister has not said today that he will achieve that, but unless he says otherwise, we have to assume that he will continue those programmes.
We developed and extended the obligation, launching a £350-million community energy-saving programme that works on a street-by-street basis in the areas of the poorest decile of people in the country. That is a well-targeted programme that works in a different way, but the Minister has not said anything about it today, so perhaps, in response to my points, he will clarify the issue of the future of CESP.
The problem with the programmes that the right hon. Lady has specified, which are all good in themselves, is that they are not up to the scale of the challenge. CESP is a good programme, but it deals with tens of thousands of households. We have to reach, within the time scale that she mentioned, 14 million. At that rate of progress, we would still be lagging by 2030. We are not abandoning her programmes but bringing in an entirely new level of ambition. We are consolidating and building on those programmes, and bringing in more resources and ingenuity, as well as demand from the private sector, so it is a plus-plus agenda from this new coalition.
Again, I have to tell the Minister that I think he is rather mistaken. The fact is that, whatever his green deal does—I shall discuss that in more detail in a moment—it depends entirely on who opts in. He may get nobody to do so. He is talking about a grandiose scheme covering millions of people, but it depends entirely on individual households deciding to opt into the scheme. The benefit of CESP, on which we expected to build further, was that it involved the whole community, local government, energy companies and partnerships in a way that allowed for an holistic approach. That is clearly what his scheme will fail to do.
Let me make a little more progress. We also introduced the CRC energy efficiency scheme—again, there has been no mention of that today—which is an extremely important energy efficiency measure. It is a new mandatory emissions trading scheme to improve energy efficiency in the large public and private sector organisations that were not otherwise covered by the climate change levy, or indeed the emissions trading scheme, which is, of course, European-based. Consequently supermarkets, banks, universities, hospitals and other organisations were all brought into an energy efficiency framework. The scheme is intended to target emissions from the energy use of those organisations, which represent no less than 10% of all UK emissions. What is the future of the CRC energy efficiency scheme? Again, the Minister has been silent on the issue. Will he guarantee that this important scheme will continue?
Let us not forget the boiler scrappage scheme, which my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright) mentioned. It was a great success. About 125,000 heating systems have been or are due to be upgraded under the scheme. It helped sustain work for installers and UK-based boiler manufacturers throughout the economic recovery, and it saved carbon. Replacing 125,000 G-rated boilers should save about 140,000 tonnes of CO2 every year—the equivalent of taking about 45,000 cars off the road.
I have reminded the House of the big changes that Labour was making in energy efficiency and in putting the country on track to meet our climate change targets of a 34% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 and at least 80% by 2050.
According to the Committee on Climate Change, the emission reductions achieved in the past year have been almost entirely a result of the recession, not a result of Government action. To hear the right hon. Lady talking as though the previous Government did wonderful things to achieve climate change targets beggars belief.
I am so sorry. I was going to—I do—welcome the hon. Lady to the House, but her intervention is not welcome. We more than doubled—hon. Members know better than to laugh at this—our Kyoto commitment. At the last count, when I was in my place, we had seen a 21% reduction in CO2 emissions over 1990 levels, and we were very much on target to achieve what we had set out. We introduced groundbreaking legislation that constrained us, with carbon budgets year on year—three budgets already in place and programmes that could enable us to meet those budgets.
In the same vein as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), I must point out that the achievement of the Kyoto targets was due to other factors—in that case, the dash for gas, which transformed the pattern of greenhouse gas emissions in this country. That and the recession achieved far more than the previous Government.
Again, I am sorry to say that the hon. Gentleman knows better than that. Nobody disputes the fact that the dash for gas was a factor, and more recently the recession has, indeed, been a factor, but the independent Committee on Climate Change has acknowledged the difference that Government programmes over that period made. Lord Turner, the chair of the Committee on Climate Change, said very recently that the last Government
“set out a whole series of policies, and as long as we drive those through we will make a difference.”
[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) mutters from a sedentary position, “That’s about the future.” Climate change and what we need to address is indeed the future. I pointed out our considerable achievements in the past. No other Government had made the leap forward that we made, and as I said at the outset of the debate, we left a very strong framework from which any Government could proceed to reduce carbon in the UK.
Will my right hon. Friend remind the House that notwithstanding the dash for gas, the achievements during that period were against a background of a 25% growth in GDP? That must be taken into account. We would all accept that however good the achievements of the previous Government, we must do better in future to make sure that we meet the stringent targets set by the Government for 2020, and let us hope that we can exceed them.
In order to dispel some of the wild hyperbole on the matter, I hope it will be helpful to observe that the Committee on Climate Change said today that 1 megatonne of CO2 emissions out of a total of 4 megatonnes of CO2 emissions could be directly attributable to Government measures on energy efficiency and associated activities in the past year.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who always manages to read more comprehensively than I do. I meant to look at the detail before I came to the Dispatch Box, but we were rather busy, so I am grateful that he was able to make that point and that the House has heard it.
I was referring to the fact that we had made changes and were putting the country on track to meet our climate change targets, but we were never complacent. That is why, one year ago, we launched our great British refurb programme, and in July last year published the UK low carbon transition plan. Our proposals signalled a step change in the level of ambition for the household sector over the next decade—precisely the game-changer of which the Minister spoke.
The House should not just take my word for it. Paul King, the chief executive of the UK Green Building Council, said:
“This is a bold and welcome move. The biggest barrier to low carbon refurbishment—the upfront cost—is set to fall. Pay As You Save is a radical scheme, which could trigger a revolution in household refurbishment—creating at least 100,000 new jobs, saving money and conserving energy.”
That was the opinion of our transition plan.
Everything that the Minister outlined today could be found in Labour’s transition plan. We said that we would introduce clean energy cashbacks—the feed-in tariffs—to enable households to profit from generating their own electricity. We did. We said that we would legislate for a mandated price support for poorer people and raise the level of Warm Front grants, and we did. We said that we would pilot “pay as you save” ways to help people green their homes, and we did.
The Minister has made the Tories’ green deal proposals the centrepiece of his departmental policies, but for us it was part of a much more comprehensive strategy. None the less, we were very clear that we needed to engage the public directly in energy efficiency. That is why we began to test the concept of “pay as you save”—what the Government now call the green deal. We established five pilots. The partners in those pilots included 500 households, a housing association, an energy company—British Gas, Birmingham, Sutton and Stroud councils and the Severn Wye Energy Agency, the whole programme being overseen by the Energy Saving Trust.
Can the Minister report on the progress of the pilots? Will they run their course? Does he plan to take any account of them? Is it part of the learning that the Government plan to do, or do they intend to leap in, having cooked up some programme with somebody?
Of course the Government will look at all such evidence, where it is helpful, and learn what we can. I am puzzled—I hope it is not just “not invented here” syndrome—that the right hon. Lady does not understand what I tried to explain at length. Our green deal will require primary legislation because there is a fundamental difference between her scheme, which ultimately relied on credit scoring, personal debt, a green mortgage or a charge on the property. None of those things applies to the new green deal. It will not be personal debt. It will not be a charge, a loan or a mortgage. It will be secured on the property, not on the people who live in the property. It may sound technical, but that is a fundamental difference. It requires primary legislation and it is not the same as the small test pilots which, useful as they may be, the right hon. Lady was trailing.
There is no dispute between us on that matter, and I have not suggested that there is. I asked the Minister if he would take any credit—any benefit, rather—[Interruption.] He takes credit for plenty of things that he has not started himself. Will he take any benefit from this in terms of finding out what motivates people and how interested they are? It will be completely central to his plans that people are motivated and can be persuaded. These things require people to have many people in their houses doing many things. It is not easy to motivate people to undergo a great deal of change and upheaval. Such pilots show how acceptable they are, how interested people are and how best to make things work.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right: finance is only part of the issue, as we found in Kirklees. Two things are vital. Community involvement is very important, but the other exciting thing about the green deal is that it is not just reliant on the big six energy companies, which have mixed reputations, but brings in some of our most trusted high street retailers and brands, such as Marks and Spencer and Tesco, which have strong degrees of consumer trust, and I hope that new companies, not yet formed, will also come in. It is exciting that there will be new participants, on a far greater scale than was ever imagined under the previous Government.
When I was speaking about the partners, I may have left out B&Q, which is also participating in the pilots. We certainly had a similar scope of possibilities. We knew and said clearly that primary legislation would be required. We said clearly that we would need to legislate to link the finance to the property, not to the individual, and that is what we were working through. We also believed that in order to motivate people it would be necessary to present a financial package which meant that when they paid their energy bills, they were paying back the upfront costs. So there were no upfront costs, and that is why we called it pay as you save. To that extent, the kernel of this is something that we prepared for and intended. I am delighted that the Minister is going ahead with it. There is no question about that. We will certainly support him as the plans come forward and examine them in great detail. We clearly believe that this is a way forward and we want it to work.
None the less, there are questions that the Minister must answer. In opposition, the Prime Minister spoke of an entitlement. How will an entitlement be created? How many households does the Minister expect to undertake what the Labour Government called an eco-makeover by 2020? Our best-informed target was 7 million. What is his target for 2020? I would be grateful if the Minister could make that clear when he winds up, bearing in mind that people have to opt in. This is not something that they are being given without their own participation. It is unclear whether it is £6,500 or up to £6,500. Ministers know that a single-glazed, solid-walled house would cost at least £10,000 and could be much more. Is there an upper limit to the scheme that can be accommodated in the payback plans, and how many years would it take to pay back if that kind of money is being provided?
That brings me to fuel poverty. The Minister talked a lot about helping vulnerable people, but there was little mention of any concrete action to tackle fuel poverty. Warm Front, the Labour Government’s scheme for the fuel-poor, helped more than 2 million vulnerable households across England from June 2000, including 500,000 households in the last two years alone. It provides grants of up to £3,500, or up to £6,000 for those off the gas grid. Do the Government intend to scrap grant payments for central heating and insulation? I hope the Minister will be able to give us a precise answer to that question today. What evidence does he have that people in poorer households will be able to get help with insulation and improved heating under his green deal?
National Energy Action is sceptical. It has seen the details of the Government’s scheme and it says:
“The overwhelming majority of fuel-poor households currently underheat their homes and the beneficial effects of energy efficiency improvements would generally be in the form of a warmer dwelling rather than in financial savings. NEA is deeply concerned about how these people would be expected to service loan repayments, let alone gain access to loans at commercial interest rates given their often precarious financial circumstances.”
The Minister will say, “But they are not loans.” But somebody has to put the money up front, albeit that it is the energy companies, and somebody has to pay back, so we must know what will happen to the most vulnerable people. How many pensioners and poor families does he think will be able to take out the green deal?
We have discussed energy efficiency in the context of reducing the energy used by better insulation. But climate change dictates that we not only reduce our use, but decarbonise what we do use. That is a much more comprehensive strategy.
The right hon. Lady speaks about fuel poverty, which is terrible for many people. But despite what the Labour Government did in terms of CERTs, CESPs and Warm Front, all of which are laudable, can she explain why fuel poverty increased?
It was because there were unprecedented fuel prices. No Government could have instituted a programme that could have erased the effect of the dramatic global increase in oil prices.
Let me continue with my case that we need a more comprehensive strategy—a point that was made by a number of my hon. Friends, intervening on points of interest at the beginning of the Minister’s speech. Heating accounts for three quarters of home energy use. No matter how much we improve our insulation or reduce consumption by our appliances, we will inevitably still use considerable amounts of energy. At present, we depend on fossil fuels—natural gas, liquid gas and oil. That cannot continue indefinitely, which is why we planned to introduce a renewable heat incentive from next year. That would guarantee payments for those who install technologies, such as ground source heat pumps, air source heat pumps and biomass boilers.
Under our proposed tariffs, the installation of a ground source heat pump in an average semi-detached house with adequate insulation would be rewarded with £1,000 a year, and lead to savings of £200 a year if used instead of heating oil. The heat incentive would help thousands of consumers who are off the gas network to lower their fuel bills and gain a cash reward for greening their heating supply.
In government, we were pleased to achieve a wide consensus for our Climate Change Act 2008 and Energy Act 2008. We were gratified by the enthusiasm with which our 10-year transition plan for low carbon was received, particularly by the CBI and the TUC.
Today, I can promise our broad support for coalition Government plans that reflect and continue on the path that we have set, and I can promise that we will scrutinise fairly the details of any legislation. But the big question remains: will they will the means? Can they resolve their differences, or will Tory ideological cuts totally undermine the critical progress that needs to be made—[Interruption.] The Minister laughs, but he said not a word about public sector housing, or private sector housing where landlords are completely and utterly unwilling to assist with energy conservation. There is so much that needs to be addressed by proper public policy, but ideological cuts cut across that.
Government is about leadership, setting priorities and, yes, making hard choices, but it is also about holding one’s nerve and seeing things through. The coalition had a choice. It could have balanced deficit reduction with investment in the future, investment in manufacturing, such as Sheffield Forgemasters, and investment in decarbonising the electricity supply. However, it clearly lacks the vision to do so.
The Minister promised to make his Government the greenest ever. All I can say is that he has made a shaky start. We will judge him on his strategy to deliver a low-carbon future that tackles climate change, on his record of creating green jobs and on whether the transition to low carbon is made fairly.
I thank the Minister for his statement. He was absolutely right to highlight our collective failure to address energy efficiency adequately, but he seems so keen to do something about it that I could almost mistake him for a Lib Dem—[Interruption.] Not quite, perhaps. On the green deal, the ministerial team has imaginatively built on proposals. Obviously, I shall claim that the Lib Dems were the very first to produce such a scheme, but the Conservatives did, too, and towards the end the Labour Government were—[Interruption.] We will check whether the Green party was ahead of the Lib Dems.
Not on that one; I am sorry.
All the parties, and even the Labour Government in the end, were working on variations on that scheme, but the one that the ministerial team has come up with is truly imaginative, and its unique financing raises the ambition for energy efficiency in this country in a way that, if successful, will represent a step change in energy efficiency. As the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) pointed out, it is not guaranteed to be successful, and we do not know exactly how many people will take it up. The point, however, is to wish it well and for all Members to promote it, support private companies, communicate the scheme’s success and hope that it achieves the step change that we are looking for. I congratulate the ministerial team on coming up with that proposal.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way on that point, because under the previous Government communication problems were often among the reasons why some very good schemes did not take off. I therefore wish this scheme well. Does he agree that this Government’s big effort to introduce a scheme instantly is a positive move, and that all parts of the House will welcome improved communication?
I am sure the hon. Lady is right to emphasise the importance of communication. I was going to go on to pay tribute to the outgoing Administration, and in particular to the right hon. Members for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) and for Lewisham, Deptford, who towards the end of the Labour Government brought some urgency to the issue and improved things. However, it is true that at times they were tempted to take credit for things that were the result of larger factors, and that, given the number of consultations and pilots in which they indulged, they did not get round to implementing some of the schemes that they had contemplated. It now falls to the coalition to increase the pace of change, and the early signs are good.
The need is urgent. If we are to achieve throughout Europe a target of 30% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, which I believe should be the target for the whole European Union, we will have to make those radical step changes in policy. Indeed, we need to do so if we are to have any chance of reducing the concentration of atmospheric CO2 to 450 ppm or lower, which I believe is absolutely necessary. If we do not do that, the chance of global warming increasing by more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels rises, threatening food production, conflict and, ultimately, the economies on which we depend to finance public sector and Government programmes.
In that respect, energy efficiency is no panacea. Not long ago, I visited a company near my constituency called Messier-Dowty, which provides world-class aircraft parts, particularly undercarriage. I remember having a conversation with its staff, in which they extolled the virtues of those parts and the aircraft industry’s efforts to make aircraft more efficient and lighter, and use less energy as they flew. However, I pointed out that eventually the industry would have to adjust to a world in which people learned to fly less and used alternative means of travel and communications. The same analogy is true for the whole economy. Energy efficiency is the first and most cost-effective area to address, but it is no substitute for the wholesale decarbonisation of our economy, which we also need to work on.
I shall focus on three areas of energy efficiency: first, energy efficiency in buildings, especially the skills needed to deliver it; secondly, smart metering; and finally, energy markets and pricing. In the first area, it is right that we concentrate on buildings. Throughout Europe, apparently 90% of our time is spent indoors and 30% of our energy consumption is devoted to heating and lighting buildings, so the green deal is an important step in trying to address that scale of energy use. However, there are traps ahead, and I have spoken to training suppliers in the further education sector and those hoping to run apprenticeships in architecture and building trades in and around my constituency. They point out a severe lack of skills in those new building technologies, particularly the skills needed not just in isolated instances, such as the installation of renewable technologies or the provision of insulation, but in new building materials, in the different approach that we need to take in the building trades and in architecture, and in constructing and retrofitting buildings. Such skills must be fundamental to training in those sectors.
I am slightly confused. Given that the hon. Gentleman supports deep and savage cuts to the training budgets of our colleges, how does he expect them to produce those vast numbers of desperately needed skilled workers in order to bring about that step change that we all want?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. One answer is clearly the green deal, which will incentivise private companies to invest in such training themselves. Apprenticeships might be part of the solution, too. However, when I asked Gloucester college, a forward-looking and innovative FE college based partly in my constituency and partly in Gloucester, what was the single biggest step that could be taken, the answer was not to fund extra courses. It suggested allowing FE colleges that provide such training to accredit their own courses, rather than having to defer constantly to universities. I commend that recommendation to Ministers and their colleagues in other Departments. The college believed that that would enable it to respond much faster to market situations and to design courses much more flexibly, and that it was the single most important change that could be made. I hope that provides an answer to the hon. Gentleman.
On new buildings at least, the other possible pitfall is the rather prescriptive and increasingly complex code for sustainable homes. I welcomed the code when the previous Government introduced it, and generally, as an instrument of policy, it is a welcome development. However, it has been painfully slow at raising energy efficiency levels in new buildings, and it risks becoming so over-prescriptive that it defeats our objectives.
I know the Secretary of State well, and he is no friend of over-prescription; he prefers the creation of the right market environment, which would avoid the need for such complexity and enable the process to move faster. Instead of having standards of such complex design, perhaps we should reinforce one or two simple measures—for instance, a measure of kilowatt-hours per square metre for every building, old or new. To follow up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main), that would be easy to communicate to the public and easy for estate agents, politicians and everybody else to understand. It might become a powerful measure of energy efficiency, with no need to prescribe such complex details as we find in the current code.
This morning there was a round-table discussion hosted by The House Magazine, and one point repeatedly came up. Examples were mentioned of earlier civilisations—even the Romans—that were very good at preserving openness and light in buildings and making them energy-efficient through the communal use of heat; the renewable heat issue has already been mentioned. More traditional wooden buildings within the Arctic circle still seem to require less energy to heat than many buildings in this country. I know from my own experience of villages in India where buildings made basically out of mud were beautifully cool in summer and beautifully warm in winter. They were very energy-efficient, but used materials that would probably not be allowed under current building regulations. Incidentally, I am not suggesting that we should all start living in yurts or anything like that; that would be a bit too Liberal.
We should be wary that over-complication and over-prescription could risk the defeat of our own objectives, and lead to our prescriptions to the industry for low-carbon homes being too inflexible and therefore too expensive. More flexibility might enable the private sector to deliver some of the objectives more simply and efficiently.
I shall now talk about smart metering. I was a shadow environment spokesman under the previous Government, and assorted people lobbied me heavily—as they did my opposite numbers, I suspect—about their particular designs of smart meter. I am aware that the field is very competitive. I make no judgment between the different systems, but I am increasingly aware that smart metering covers a multitude of sins. There are tough decisions ahead for the ministerial team about exactly which designs we might favour.
At the most basic level, we are talking about something that just generates information that can be read out on a display, and might be reflected on a bill. That would be useful, but rather limited. More sophisticated systems influence the timing of devices such as washing machines and dishwashers so that they operate at different times and improve the efficiency of the whole household.
The most interactive technology feeds real-time information back to the energy companies themselves and could improve the efficiency of the whole network. I would draw a line at the kind of systematic smart metering that enabled people to switch suppliers minute by minute, which I know has been suggested by some hon. Members. The machine itself searches for the best deal and tariff at any particular minute. That would lead to indescribable confusion over billing and might destabilise businesses from week to week. However, we need to look at the various different technologies and be ambitious about what smart metering can deliver.
On energy markets and pricing, the Minister rightly said that we suffered from a plethora of different energy efficiency programmes under the last Government. Many were well intentioned and individually well designed, but there was a lot of stopping and starting and different, confusing and overlapping requirements. Last Christmas I visited the Cheltenham Royal Mail sorting office and found postal workers falling over heaps of low-energy light bulbs as one energy company in particular had mailed out huge numbers of the things at the last possible moment. I am not surprised that the Minister said that 262 million had been supplied.
In a way, I suppose that the bulbs were a good thing, but they spectacularly missed the point. While price still rewards energy consumption, it will always be difficult to mobilise the energy companies really to get behind energy efficiency. For the longer term, I commend to the Minister one other Lib Dem policy that did not quite make it into the coalition agreement. It was to take energy bills and set a historic baseline amount for each household, taking into account the number of children and so on, which would be reflected in the historic consumption. Thereafter, the cost to consumers would rise if energy consumption rose, but the energy company would not be allowed to profit from that rise.
Instead, the surplus would be taken, for example, into a fund administered by the company for energy efficiency or environmental programmes. At a stroke, that would break the link between profit and increased energy use; it would actually cost the energy company money if energy use rose. The company would have a direct financial business case for increasing energy efficiency. That would be hugely simpler than all the complicated schemes in which the companies were set targets and sought various ways—some of them rather untestable and unverifiable—of trying to meet Government objectives. If the Minister adopts that policy, I really will think that he is turning into a Liberal Democrat.
If the coalition is to deliver on these ambitious targets, and on its ambition to be the greenest Government yet, we will need, in the Minister’s words, to change the game and be really ambitious, bold and radical. I fully expect that we will be.
I welcome the Ministers, the hon. Members for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) and for Wealden (Charles Hendry), to their places. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle has been appointed; he has long been interested in these issues and I am sure that he will make a great contribution. As he said, much of the debate about the reduction of carbon emissions tends to focus on renewables, which, of course, make an important contribution. However, immediate gains are much more likely to come from energy efficiency, so our having this debate today is a positive sign.
If I were to tell the Ministers that there is a technology that could reduce domestic fuel usage by 30%, I expect that they would want to hear about it. If I said the same thing but added that the Government were holding the technology back, I hope that they would ask me what we needed to do to bring the technology along. However, I have already written to the hon. Member for Wealden about these points, and his response to date has been somewhat lukewarm. Today I shall try to persuade both Ministers to take the claims seriously and take the action required to help bring that technology to the market quickly.
I am talking about micro-combined heat and power, which involves small appliances that are efficient and beneficial for the consumer, and will help the UK reach its carbon reduction targets and encourage manufacturing; hon. Members on both sides will realise that we are keen on manufacturing in Sheffield. Importantly, such appliances generate electricity in the home, reducing household energy bills at a stroke. Electricity can also be generated for sale to the national grid, giving an income to householders and reducing reliance on large expensive generating plants.
I particularly want to highlight one appliance, which is suitable for both the domestic and commercial markets. It is produced by a small Sheffield-based company called Inspirit Energy. The appliance is the size of a washing machine and the highly effective boiler is a 3 kW electrical system capable of working at 92% efficiency. The appliance can supply all the hot water and heating requirements of a home, up to 70% of electricity needs at peak times, and it can generate up to 50% of a user’s annual electricity consumption. The development of the appliance is well under way and I hope that it will be ready to go to market in the near future. I shall explain why the Government are holding the technology back.
As the two Ministers well know, a particular feature of micro-combined heat and power appliances is that they generate electricity at precisely the times when there is significant demand, helping the national grid to cope. The systems would particularly help the elderly and vulnerable, who may be worried about putting on their heating for fear of the cost. They can heat their homes knowing that the cost of doing so is partly or completely covered. If they sell some electricity to the national grid, they could make a small amount of money back. Importantly, such appliances could cut the carbon footprint of a home significantly, perhaps reducing CO2 emissions by up to 70%. These products are intended merely to cover any interim period before the world runs entirely on renewables. However, with development, the units themselves could in time run on renewable fuels such as biomass or solar.
The Minister talked about the important role of Government in this respect, not necessarily in directly supporting the private sector in the development of these appliances, but in providing the architecture, structure or framework that will allow them to develop. One way of encouraging their further development and future sales is through feed-in tariffs. Around the world, tariff schemes have had a positive effect in cutting the cost of renewable technologies, as well as in creating employment opportunities. Such schemes offer incentives to individuals and companies, by providing clear and effective financial incentives for companies developing appliances for householders and small businesses.
Earlier this year, DECC produced a paper on feed-in tariffs which stated that the tariff should comprise two components: one for total kilowatt-hours generated, and another for kilowatt-hours exported to the national grid. The technologies covered in the paper included micro-combined heat and power, but only up to an electrical capacity of less than, or equal to, 2 kW. I had already raised this matter in the House, and lobbied the previous Government on it, during the Christmas Adjournment debate in December 2009. I point out to Ministers that having an upper limit of 2 kW would exclude the unit produced by Inspirit Energy—and, no doubt, units that may be produced by other companies. The ability to generate feed-in tariffs has the potential to make the unit very attractive, but not having them could impact on the potential return to the company and thus the attractiveness of its further development and manufacture in the UK.
We have already, rightly, spent a great deal of time talking about how we enable people in poorer households to access a wide range of technologies and resources that will reduce their carbon emissions. If householders fear that they cannot get a payback on a boiler of this type, they will be unlikely to invest in it. By having such a low threshold of 2 kW, we are damaging the country’s prospects in what will surely become an important industry of the future. We must change the rules to allow feed-in tariffs for 3 kW appliances. I agree that anything over 3 kW is more suited to industrial use, but excluding a 3 kW machine means that properties with more than three bedrooms are excluded from the micro-combined heat and power programme.
Products such as the appliance being developed by Inspirit Energy could not only help to meet the UK’s target of reducing energy but drastically reduce the excessive use of fossil fuels. This technology can make a major contribution to saving carbon generation. By focusing on what can be done now to make our homes more energy efficient, we can go a long way towards changing our fuel usage, emissions and ever-increasing fuel bills.
When I wrote to the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Wealden, in May, to request a meeting with him, I was advised that the demands on his diary are considerable at present—as I am sure is the case—and that such a meeting could not take place. However, let me say to both Ministers that if they, or anybody here, were to meet the people who are developing this technology, I am sure that they would become as enthusiastic as I am about the product.
The hon. Lady knows that I hold her in high regard, but that has increased even more, as I had not previously appreciated what expertise she has in this particular area. May I invite her to come to the Department to join the round table on microgeneration that we will be holding—in July, I believe? If she would care to bring representatives from the company in her constituency, they would be very welcome to participate with other stakeholders from the industry on how we can have a more ambitious microgeneration strategy.
I thank the Minister for that very generous offer. I am delighted that in securing the opportunity to have such a meeting, I have achieved the aim that I set myself in making this speech. He is very generous in saying that I am an expert, but indeed I am not; that is the last thing I am. I am, however, persuaded by the experts that this technology that can make a real difference. I am delighted to accept his invitation.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech today. I follow distinguished speeches by many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I do so with some trepidation, a feeling I am sure that they will recall from the time when they had to make their first speeches. It is an immense privilege to make a maiden speech in this great House, where so many extraordinary men and women have gone before. The sheer weight of tradition and history are overwhelming, and a reminder to us all of Parliament’s ancient permanence, which is not to be tampered with lightly.
What a great honour it is to represent the people of South Dorset. The county is my home, and has been my family’s home for generations, and I am proud to be elected to speak for it. I follow an almost unbroken line of Conservative South Dorset MPs, with occasional, notable exceptions. The most recent, of course, was my predecessor, Lord Knight of Weymouth—a title that will, no doubt, throw a few. I congratulate him on his ennoblement and on serving the people of South Dorset so diligently for nine years. Ironically, perhaps, fate threw us together before my political aspirations took hold. As a local BBC television reporter, I was, for some years, frequently sent to interview my former opponent. Little did we know then what lay ahead. Suffice it to say that his elevation to the peerage was splendid news to us all, and a relief to me.
My foray into politics ends a slight drought of Draxes here in the Commons. In an earlier deluge, six ancestors graced this place between 1679 and 1880—all representing the long-lost seat of Wareham. One, John Sawbridge Erle-Drax MP, spoke only once during the entire 32 years of his parliamentary career, and that was to ask the Speaker of the House to open the window. Unsurprisingly, he was known as the “Silent MP”. After his death, he arranged for The Times to be delivered daily to his mausoleum through a specially built-in letterbox; mine is under construction. In view of his Trappist tendencies, for his descendent to be making his maiden speech a mere eight weeks into the parliamentary Session must seem like indecent haste.
South Dorset is a place of monumental beauty. The people are proud and fiercely independent. Years of history have forged this constituency, not least during the second world war, which saw its beaches, bases and ranges nurture tens of thousands of young men as they prepared to fight for our freedom during those dark days more than 60 years ago.
Today, the resorts of Weymouth and Swanage are home to a wide range of activities, from light industry and retail, to tourism and fishing. Farmers, the guardians of our countryside, and sadly neglected for so many years, have cared for the lush interior for centuries. Nor should we forget the quarries of Portland, which still offer up the stone for which the island is so famous. The island of Portland is also renowned by sailors for its huge tides, which offer great hope for future energy provision.
Another island in my constituency is worthy of note, not least because of its red squirrels. I am, of course, talking about Brownsea island, set in the middle of Poole harbour, the second largest natural harbour in the world. The marshy southern reaches of those waters provide a spectacular haven for sailors, birds and wildlife, including the human variety, which occupies one of Europe’s largest nudist beaches at nearby Studland. I have yet to arrange one of my surgeries there.
The entire constituency is dominated by our Jurassic coast, now a world heritage site. Dinosaurs once roamed the constituency—there is proof of it. Judging by comments made by opponents during the election campaign, people might think one was still out there. Maybe that is the case, but a strong Conservative heart beats underneath these scales, tempered for a moment with a dash of liberalism. I shall represent my constituents according to my conscience, without fear or favour.
On that note, and despite being at the bottom of the food chain at the moment, I sense a shift of mood in the House. The new intake, of which I am one, has brought with it a fresh perspective. While understanding the need for party cohesion, I believe that MPs should have their own minds and, above all, be mindful of those who put us here. That was very much my guide during my four years as a candidate, when I met a vast range of people who enriched my knowledge of the constituency. It was that experience that revealed to me that appearances can often be deceptive.
What do I mean? South Dorset may be lavishly endowed with natural gifts, but it has traditionally suffered from a lack of investment in its infrastructure. We have lost shops, pubs and bus services, and a shocking 50% of our post offices have closed over the past 10 years. Out of season, the hotels and guest houses fall silent. In Weymouth alone, we have six of the most deprived wards on the national index of deprivation. The fishing industry, quarrying, agriculture and the ports have all taken a knock during the recession, and although unemployment remains below the national average, wages are resolutely low.
We have two prisons in South Dorset, HMP The Verne and the young offenders institution. I have visited both on several occasions and work closely with the governors and the Prison Officers Association. The POA’s plight has been ignored for too long. As in so many other areas, the pendulum has swung too far in one direction. Today, officers feel powerless to do their job effectively as the prisoners appear to have more rights than they do. With 50% remission as the norm, it is difficult to apply meaningful sanctions to prisoners who do not toe the line. It is important to remember, in my humble opinion, that the Prison Service is just that—a service. Without proper support, officers will continue to feel, as they repeatedly describe themselves, a “forgotten army”. I warmly welcome the Government’s intentions on minimum sentencing and I urge them to look at the matter as soon as possible.
I also applaud the Government’s interest in, and support for, our armed services. In South Dorset we have two major Army camps, Bovington and Lulworth. The courage and sacrifice of the families who live there cannot be overstated. Take, for example, just one of our county regiments, The Rifles. The regiment has now lost 53 riflemen in Afghanistan, and more than 200 have been seriously injured. That is the human cost of war. As a former soldier myself, I hold our servicemen and women in high regard. I am greatly reassured by the coalition Government’s actions to ensure that the military covenant is properly respected.
As to the future, it holds great promise, with the Olympic spotlight well and truly focused on the best sailing waters in the United Kingdom. Already, top athletes are training for competitive events both this year and next in preparation for the 2012 games, all hosted by the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, the first Olympic venue to be ready and officially opened by the Queen herself. None of that would be possible without the co-operation of Portland port, the former naval dockyard now in private hands. Despite grim predictions at the time, the port now employs more civilians than it did in its heyday as a naval base. There are some exciting projects in the pipeline that promise hundreds more jobs.
I have entered public life because I could no longer sit on my hands and watch our beloved country lose her pride. There is so much to fight for. However, unlike my ancestor, who did not say a word for 32 years—I will not ask you to open the window, Madam Deputy Speaker—I have every intention of standing up for my constituents who put me here.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech during this debate. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) on an excellent and entertaining speech. Over the past few weeks I have listened to many maiden speeches, and each time I felt a pang of emotion as I listened to other new Members speaking with heartfelt pride about their new role and their determination to work for their constituents. I now speak with heartfelt pride myself. I am proud to stand here as a native of North Tyneside having the great honour of representing my fellow North Tynesiders as the first woman Labour MP for the area since Margaret Bondfield in 1926.
North Tyneside constituency underwent some boundary changes at the general election, so I find myself paying tribute to both the former MP and two colleagues in the House. The right hon. Stephen Byers represented the constituency for 18 years. Not only an able parliamentarian but an excellent constituency MP, he is held in high regard by the many constituents he helped.
Two wards from the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown) have come back into North Tyneside. I know that my right hon. Friend and Steve Byers worked together on a number of issues, including the Swan Hunter campaign “Life for Swans” and most recently to help with the reinstatement of the Findus factory in Longbenton. I believe that the north-east is indebted to my right hon. Friend for the excellent work that he did in his role as Minister for our region. The evidence of his popularity as a constituency MP is there to see in the busy case load that I have inherited from him.
Riverside ward, where I spent the first 19 years of my life, has come into North Tyneside from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell). My hon. Friend worked hard as a Minister in the last Government, and his success as an MP was confirmed with his fantastic general election victory, when he increased his majority despite the Tory party spending some of Ashcroft’s millions over several years in a vain attempt to unseat him.
North Tyneside constituency stretches along the River Tyne from North Shields to Wallsend, through Killingworth, Benton and Longbenton to the former mining communities in Seaton Burn, Burradon, Annitsford and Camperdown. The people of North Tyneside have a sense of fairness, and their commitment to their area is demonstrated by the array of community groups that have developed over the years, from youth groups such as the Longbenton Youth Project to more established residents’ groups such as the Burradon forum. We are particularly proud of our excellent schools, many of which have been enhanced and developed under Labour’s Building Schools for the Future, and we have our own college of further education, TyneMet, which has helped launch the careers of many North Tynesiders, including mine.
Modern business parks have brought employment into the area, and Tesco is about to create 1,000 jobs at Balliol business park. However, I, like many others in the area, am saddened that we are to lose the Twinings tea factory in North Shields. Despite a good campaign to save it, the company has decided to relocate to Poland, leaving its workers jobless. Everything must now be done to help those workers find suitable alternative work, and I know that the unions have started the process to help them through this difficult time.
North Tyneside has no shortage of cultural and industrial heritage, with famous sons including Robert Stephenson, Robert Westall, Owen Brannigan and Sting. The world of football has been graced with players like Peter Beardsley, Alan Shearer and Michael Carrick, who all started out at the famous Wallsend boys club. Wallsend is also home to the Roman fort Segedunum, which is a world heritage site and sits alongside the world famous Swan Hunter shipbuilding yard, which sadly closed in 1995. The former Rising Sun pit, where my late father-in-law, an overman, was in the last cage to leave the pit, now forms part of our countryside park.
On several occasions, I have listened to Members opposite mock when those of us with great mining and shipbuilding traditions tell of the devastating effects of the Tory cuts during the 1980s and 1990s. What they fail to understand is that those cuts were not simply about economic ruin for individuals, but dealt severe cultural blows to close-knit communities. I congratulate the Labour Government on trying to right those wrongs with positive policies during the last 13 years. I know that one of our best hopes to reinvigorate industry in North Tyneside is to invest in the wind turbine industry. Already my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East and my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth have been working with Shepherd Offshore to that end, and I want to work with them to bring this modern, skilful and sustainable industry to our former shipyards.
I have hopes and aspirations for North Tyneside, but this debate shows that this Government will make the attainment of those aspirations a hard slog. Fuel poverty has been tackled on a large scale in North Tyneside, thanks to support from the previous Labour Government. As a councillor and former energy champion for the constituency, I saw the excellent work done, with the help of Eaga, to develop a strategy to combat fuel poverty with partners from all sectors. The introduction of the warm zone, under our previous elected Labour mayor, not only improved energy efficiency in residents’ homes, but—because the scheme included supporting people to access benefits—realised more than £l million in extra benefits, to which people are rightly entitled. I only hope that the Government’s green deal proposals will continue to deliver this level of success for those people still in fuel poverty in North Tyneside.
I cannot finish my maiden speech without reference to my former colleagues working in the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission. As an administrative officer, I worked with the staff in manual payments at Longbenton until April this year. I know how committed these and other public sector workers are to delivering good services. As Members of this House, we are elected public servants and we should do all that we can to protect our colleagues across the public sector from Government cuts.
My commitment to North Tyneside is total. I will do all that I can to justify the trust that the people of North Tyneside have placed in me, and I will busy myself, in this House and in my constituency, to get the best deal possible for them.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech today. I congratulate you on your new role. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) and the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) on their fascinating and excellent maiden speeches.
It is a great honour to be in this Chamber representing the people of the South Ribble constituency, and I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, David Borrow. For 13 years, he worked hard for his constituents and he was renowned for his support of many local charities and organisations, particularly those involved in the developing world helping those suffering from HIV and AIDS.
I feel very proud in being the first woman Member of Parliament for South Ribble, but I follow in the illustrious footsteps of Edith Rigby from Penwortham in my constituency, who was a founding member of the Hutton and Howick women’s institute. In 1904, she joined the Women’s Social and Political Union, popularly known as the suffragettes. She was arrested and sentenced to a month in prison for taking part in a march to the Houses of Parliament. She went on to serve a total of seven prison sentences, and her activities culminated in her planting a bomb in the Liverpool cotton exchange.
South Ribble can be divided into four distinctive areas and locations, each with its own beauty and rich history and, under this new Government, a better future ahead. Leyland, of Leyland Motors fame, is the main town of South Ribble and has its past in both the cotton and engineering industries. The Cromwell tank was built in Leyland in 1943 by Leyland Motors, which was a world-beating engineering firm of its time, exporting lorries and buses around the world, including to Cuba. The Leyland cotton mills wove fine cambrics and fancies for many fashion houses of the day, in addition to cotton bandages, woven and bleached in Leyland to supply the military front lines of British campaigns around the globe.
Although the heavy engineering and cotton mills of the past have long ceased, these industries have been replaced by highly skilled, technical engineering companies such as Clean Air Power and Torotrak, providing hi-tech solutions for the reduction of CO2 emissions from large haulage vehicles and articulated lorries. In the case of Clean Air Power, CO2 reductions of 50% to 60% are the norm. Leyland is also the home to Schwans, which makes the famous Chicago town pizza.
The people of Leyland and I strongly agree that regeneration is the key to the future success of local business, along with improved infrastructure and leisure facilities. I am delighted that, under the leadership of Councillor Margaret Smith, the leader of the Conservative South Ribble borough council, the Leyland regeneration board has been formed. The board is made up of prominent local businessmen and women with a wealth of local expertise, but more importantly, this is being carried out through the private sector and is not hamstrung by the red tape and bureaucracy of the public sector. All in all, the future for Leyland is a million miles from humdrum.
The villages of Tarleton—where I live—Hesketh Bank and Banks were where the Normans “harried” the north in 1069 and they were allowed, under law, to continue their recreational violence of slaughtering any Saxons whom they came across in the “freelands”. The fenlands, or marshes, surrounding the villages are now home to a 2,000 acre bird sanctuary and conservation area in the Ribble marsh estuary.
Fortunately, the “freelands” are now some of the richest agricultural land in the country, which supports the horticulture, or growing, industry, producing crops that are an important source of the nation’s food. That is one of our largest industries, with the growers supplying the major multiple retailers in both the UK and other parts of Europe. However, these companies, both large and small and employing large numbers of local people, feel weighed down and burdened by the rules, regulations and taxes imposed on them by the previous Administration. They, like many other businesses, feel pummelled by ever increasing business taxes, vehicle excise duties and fuel duties, and I welcome this Government’s measures to help private business and enterprise flourish. The growers are desperate for new infrastructure to enable them to get their food crops from the growing fields to the main road network. In the bonfire of the quangos, the horticultural industry is looking to this Government to set fire to one of the last remaining dinosaurs of its type—the Agricultural Wages Board.
Other villages of South Ribble are famous for many past and varied pursuits by the locals. Albert Pierrepoint, Britain’s last official executioner, after his retirement owned the Rose and Crown public house in Much Hoole, the pub being affectionately known by its patrons as “the drop in”. Jeremiah Horrocks, the curate of St Michael’s church in Little Hoole, accurately predicted and witnessed the transit of Venus, last seen—after 121 years—in 2004. Mawdesley was the centre of basket-making in Lancashire, thanks to the fine willow grown on the banks of the River Yarrow. The village of Eccleston was once famous for growing more than 200 varieties of apples, and I am delighted that the community has recently come together to replant apple trees in gardens, on the green and in other public spaces.
Small and medium-sized businesses are the mainstay of employment in South Ribble and the risk takers and innovators of our economy. These business people will certainly benefit from the measures outlined last week by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and fellow north-west MP, through his freedom, growth and enterprise agenda, and thanks to the new Government’s regional growth fund, I am delighted that businesses in South Ribble will benefit to the tune of up to £5,000 per employee in national insurance contributions for the first 10 new employees.
My constituency is home to many highly skilled and specialist employees in the defence industry in the north-west—one of the UK’s pre-eminent defence industrial areas. BAE Systems, Europe’s largest defence contractor, has a strong presence in my constituency, with many constituents having a deep-rooted and strong interest in the future of the Typhoon fighter aircraft and tranche 3B of the programme; in the Mantis, one of the world’s leading unmanned air vehicles; and, of course, in the F-35 joint strike fighter aircraft, which is a Lockheed Martin programme with BAE Systems as its main partner. No one can pre-judge the outcome of the strategic defence and security review, but it will come as no surprise to the Front-Bench Defence team that I will be campaigning hard and fighting for my constituents for the Typhoon tranche 3B project to go ahead.
I am very pleased to be making my maiden speech in this important debate on the progress and prospects in energy efficiency. It is with great regret, however, that the previous Government’s Warm Front initiative has not been the success that was envisaged. Indeed, a number of my constituents, including a wheelchair-bound, 81-year-old gentleman, have come to me for help, following both initial consultations and installations by Warm Front agents in the north-west. They all have a sorry tale to tell—from being without hot water and heating for months on end after Warm Front carried out work on their properties, to vastly excessive charges over and above the £3,500 grant, appalling and shoddy workmanship and faulty equipment installed with no further responsibility from the companies involved.
After a particular constituent was advised that he would be required to stump up an additional £8,000 to replace a boiler and central heating system in a two-bedroom bungalow, I contacted a local and well respected Corgi-approved heating engineer to give me a quote. That came in at a total cost of £2,800—£700 less than the grant of £3,500—for the same specification as Warm Front’s agents. I implore the Minister to review the Warm Front scheme urgently, as I believe there to be unscrupulous companies exploiting both the taxpayer, who is certainly not getting value for money, and my constituents, who in many cases are families with young children and elderly and vulnerable individuals. I respectfully request that the Minister ensure that the Government’s excellent green deal programme does not go the same way.
Above all, the people of South Ribble wanted the Government off their backs and on their side. They believe that they know how to spend their hard-earned money better than any Government, and they voted for power to be handed back to the people. It is with great pride that I am in the House representing the people of South Ribble. I have vowed to put it on the map and to be South Ribble’s voice in Westminster, and not the Westminster voice in South Ribble.
I congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your elevation. I also congratulate the three maiden speakers on their fascinating accounts of their constituencies, in particular the hon. Member for South Ribble (Lorraine Fullbrook), who was just ahead of the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon). I am now wondering where to spend my holidays—I was going to go to Florida, but I might go to all the different places mentioned as well. Dorset is on the map, too; it is not out of the question.
As a Unionist, I would normally back off from green politics or policies, but this is one occasion when I am fully in support of the green agenda. I never thought I would come to the House of Commons and say that, but today I can, with all honesty. I congratulate the Minister on bringing his thoughts and ideas to the Floor of the House; he said lots of things from which I can take comfort. However, there are many other things I would like to comment on. First, I want to outline some areas where I believe advances can be made.
Hopefully, the policies and targets we are trying to achieve are attainable. These days, efficiency is a word I dread. When someone mentions it, I think, “Oh my goodness, not more cutbacks. We’re in trouble again.” If we mention efficiency savings in schools, we are talking about school clubs being cut back, and if we mention them in hospitals, we are talking about night-time X-ray centres and accident and emergency departments being cut back. Those words send dread into the soul. However, there is one kind of efficiency that we are all happy to hear about—energy efficiency, and how it can be achieved and ultimately how it can bring about savings and a better way of life. We need to meet all our targets, including on carbon emissions. That is because the general public will be the winners from any efficiency that comes into play and which can be put to our advantage.
I am further encouraged by the number of Members who have within their constituencies companies that are go-ahead and inventive and have genuine ideas for providing energy savings. It is good to have that vast knowledge and expertise to hit upon. As someone who represents a mixed urban and rural community, I am faced with the needs of each and the difficulties that the different sectors have faced. I am also faced with the opportunities that come from that, because each has to make a lasting difference to the future of Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole. I mention Northern Ireland because I represent a constituency there, so it is important for me to make that point.
Wearing my other hat, as a Northern Ireland Assembly Member, I was part of a committee that highlighted energy efficiency. The rural community has a large input into energy production and development and the consideration of other uses of land. Will the Minister consider the issue of diversification for landowners into wind farms, sea turbines and opportunities for growing biomass, where energy savings and efficiencies can be made, and through which, ultimately, we can achieve the savings and efficiencies that we need? Strangford and Portaferry are leaps and bounds ahead of other places in many ways. I am saying that not just because I represent those areas, but because we have the first use of a tide turbine in the loch—the SeaGen project—which has begun to generate electricity for the area. It is a very successful and innovative idea. There are many other places in the United Kingdom where such an opportunity can be taken, and I hope that it will be encouraged.
Wind turbines can go a long way towards creating the energy levels and efficiencies needed. I would also make the point—I have made it in the past—that many birds and wildlife migrate to Strangford, in particular Strangford loch, in the winter. Brent geese are one of the important birds that go there. However, wind turbines and migrating fowl together will create problems, so I have suggested to those involved that perhaps we need a balance and some protection. We are all playing the renewable energy game, but the provision of wind turbines must strike a balance and integrate well with nature. It is wonderful that the SeaGen turbine has become the source of electricity for thousands of homes in my constituency. I believe that we can do this even better; we should replicate the SeaGen turbine in Portaferry right across the United Kingdom. One size does not fit all—I accept that—but we have to look at the ways we can achieve those things.
I put down this marker when it comes to offshore renewable energy: one thing must be protected, and that is the position and interests of the fisherman. Any future plans must ensure that they do not detract further from or decrease fishing locations, which would put the fishing industry under even more pressure. Given the potential for perhaps 300 sea and wind turbines on the coast, I believe that there will be an impact on a great many areas around the Irish sea coast, the Scottish coast and the rest of the UK.
The fishing industry is very important in my constituency. As such, although we all want to see the benefits and opportunities of energy efficiencies and renewables, we also want the fishing industry to be protected. By its very nature, and because the European Union is mostly responsible for the restrictions, the news for the fishing industry is not always good news. We want to make sure that we strike a balance. We need to make sure that the targets for renewable energy are met; that fishing can continue and co-exist; that the threat of habitat extinction is recognised; that fishing boats are not allowed near the sea turbines due to collision risks. Noise is generated by wind turbines; those who have one not too far away know that. If that is multiplied by 10, 20 or in some cases 100, we can see the problems. We need to be sure that people’s quality of life is not affected.
Targets have been set for 40% of all electricity generated in Northern Ireland and the area I represent to be provided through renewable energy by 2020. Location is important, and co-existence and co-operation are vital if we are all to be supportive of goals that must be achieved. We cannot allow fishing fleets to be displaced; they can co-exist. The mussel and shellfish beds off the Copeland islands off Donaghadee are an important habitat and they must be protected.
There are benefits to the economy, too. This has not been touched on so far, but as I understand it, wherever we have a sea or a wind turbine, we create jobs. Perhaps that jobs factor has not come into the equation so far, and the Minister will comment on it in summing up. In other parts of the UK, renewable energy generation has been approved and there are abundant examples of how it co-exists with other industries. That is just one of the many challenges for 2020 that I believe we should look at.
In his introduction, the Minister mentioned that there would be no targets—I may have heard him incorrectly; I would like some clarification. Targets are not set just for the sake of it, but it is important to have them, so that we know when we are achieving some of our goals. It is not a matter of setting targets and then failing to achieve them; it is important to have something to aim for. We all set targets in our life—I know I do, and I presume other Members do, too. We need to have something to aim for in relation to what can be achieved.
I referred earlier to the willow biomass project—another example of renewable energy of which Northern Ireland has taken advantage. I believe that it will reap benefits. There has to be a fairly vast acreage in order to get the advantage from it. Again, I would like to hear what incentives are available. It is not always about what grants are available; if there is an incentive for someone to plant willow biomass, why not do that? Perhaps the Minister will give us some indication of the incentives to encourage landowners, farmers or others who have the opportunity to develop it.
I am also very aware of the CRC—carbon reduction commitment—energy efficiency scheme, which is being brought into operation throughout the UK. It applies to any public body which in 2008 had at least one half-hourly electricity meter. The half-hourly market is required to register for the scheme. The Environment Agency estimates that some 1,100 public bodies will be participants in the scheme. Other registered public sector bodies must make a simple information disclosure at registration at the start of each phase of the scheme. It is hoped that the scheme will raise awareness in business, which I think is important, and there must also be the promotion of consumer efficiency. Those are the joint goals to try to aim for. I have been a part of a group aimed at encouraging the promotion of the Energy Saving Trust in the Province. Again, the scheme could be pushed elsewhere in the UK.
In these times of economic constraint, every pound saved will make a difference. It is not an exaggeration to say that pounds saved today will help balance the books at the end of the week. People need to understand that they can save around £37 a year by turning applications off standby, while reducing room temperature by 1° C can cut heating bills by up to 10%. Being a modern man—I am sure there are plenty of modern men in this Chamber—I know that washing clothes at 30° C instead of at higher temperatures uses around 40% less electricity. That may sound a trifle boring, but it is something that the modern man has to address. If people are committed to energy saving and to renewable policies, they should consider all these things.
It is my hope that this Government will consider an initiative by which the regular working family can get help with grants to enable the installation of solar panels to generate hot water among other things. In the Minister’s opening speech I think that there was mention of the legislation being put forward, and I would like to know more. Perhaps when I get a chance to read Hansard, I will have a better idea of exactly how any system might work. We are keen to see how it might happen. The cost of solar panels, for example, is sometimes prohibitive to those who cannot access grants. Yet long-term benefit to the environment, which is what we are aiming for, will far will far outweigh any cost factor. I have been contacted by a great number of young couples who would like to be green in their lifestyles, but who are working to pay off their mortgage and simply cannot afford the upgrades. Again, how will that work? The idea of the system that I got was that there would not be grants as such, but I would like to know more about how it would work.
Before I left to come here this morning, I saw a TV programme showing how energy-efficiency savings could be made in households—somewhere in London, I believe—whether it be through solar panels in the roof, the insulation of the walls or the collection of rain water in a downpipe, which is then put to household use. It provided a few examples of how that could happen. The person concerned spent a fairly large sum to make that happen, so the question I ask is how we can help those people to do more. How can we help families who cannot afford to do any of those things? That is something that we should look at, whether it be through a direct subsidy or through another method. If there is one, I would like to know what it is.
The future of energy efficiency lies in renewable energy that co-exists with business; it lies with encouraging people to do the small things that make a big difference in their homes; and it lies with this House making the prospects attractive and in every way encouraging businesses and homes to go the extra mile and see what the benefits will be.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and to address the House for the first time on behalf of the people of Wells, the most beautiful constituency in the country. [Interruption.] Yes it is.
First, I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, David Heathcoat-Amory, who sat in the House for 27 years, a longer period of service than that of any other MP for Wells since the Great Reform Bill. He was, perhaps, best known as a passionate Eurosceptic, and he voluntarily stood down from John Major’s Government in order to pursue his convictions in that area. Although I do not share his views on Europe, I believe we should respect MPs who put such a premium on their principles. Mr Heathcoat-Amory has recently announced that he does not intend to stand for election again. He is a man with other interests and activities, and I wish him well for the future.
Members will be familiar with the names of many places in the Wells constituency. It runs from the coast at Brean and Berrow, and Burnham-on-Sea and Highbridge in the west, to Shepton Mallet and Chilcompton in the east, and from Street in the south to Star and across the Mendips to Ston Easton in the north. My constituency also encompasses England’s smallest city, Wells, with its glorious cathedral, and the towns of Glastonbury, Axbridge and the villages of Cheddar and Wedmore, and 170 other rural communities. I celebrate the addition of the village of Stratton-on-the-Fosse within the boundaries of the constituency at the last election, and recognise the service of my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) in previous years.
Wells is rural Britain at its very best. The Mendip hills, reaching over 1,000 feet high, look down over the Somerset levels and moors, much of which is below sea level. Somerset is well known for its farming, its Cheddar cheese and its cider.
Somerset is heavily reliant on tourism, with 26,000 people employed in attracting and serving tourists. Perhaps, in this of all weeks, it is most familiar to the 145,000 music fans, 35,000 staff and over 20,000 volunteers who visited or worked in the village of Pilton for the 40th Glastonbury festival. Many people have enjoyed some or all of Michael Eavis’s 40 years of festivals, including those devotees who watched some of the 60 hours of live BBC coverage—some of it from yurts, I might add in reference to earlier conversations in the House. People were living in teepees and in camps but this time there was no rain, so we suffered not the mud. The BBC coverage was even in competition with the World cup and Wimbledon.
This weekend, I met people who first attended in 1970 at Worthy Farm, when the tickets cost £1 for the whole festival, which included free milk for the duration. The real benefit of the Pilton, or Glastonbury, festival is long-lasting: the huge support that Michael’s festival brings to local communities and businesses and its promotion of Somerset and all it produces.
My constituency is a place of both great history and great legend. People can trace the footprints of King Alfred and King Arthur, as well as of our first tourist, Joseph of Arimathea, who reputedly brought the holy grail to Glastonbury for safekeeping. However, despite its long history, I would not want anyone to think the area is anything other than a collection of thriving modern communities sharing many of the challenges confronting the country as a whole.
I have entered the House because of my shouting at the radio in frustration for the past 20 years. I have spent most of my time saying, “People should be able to see that things can be done in a different way, and someone should do that.” That frustration led me eventually—it possibly led my father initially—to think that that someone might be me, and that I should actually stand up for what I believe in.
I therefore stood for election, and I hope that in my time here I will be able to bring a little more common sense. By way of example of that, let me offer some of the issues that have struck me over the past couple of weeks. One of my constituents has come to me and said that her village has just replaced two bins at a cost of £340 and that everyone accepts that. I think that is an absurd amount of money to be paying for two bins, particularly as they are to be used for dog poo. That sort of thing cannot be sensible, and must not be done unquestioningly on behalf of people. We need to check that we get value for money and insist that our councils and authorities across the country ensure that that is the case.
My second example comes from Cross in my constituency. Again, the local authority has accepted that something may need to be done in that local community to alleviate some of the traffic problems, but a roundabout might cost £600,000. I cannot see how we can accept these things; we must ensure that in economically difficult times we question what is happening right the way through our land. I hope that I can bring a level of common sense.
When I was standing for election, I did not expect to find myself on the Government Benches—that was a nice surprise. I was delighted that when I looked at the coalition agreement I found that 27 different Liberal Democrat manifesto pledges had found their way into it. I have been questioned on several occasions about what it is like to be in the coalition team. I have told people that it is not absolutely where I thought I was going to be, but that a seven or eight-year-old child might dream about playing for West Ham and then at the age of 21, having spent 12 years training, they might suddenly get an offer from Fulham. What do they do then? Do they say, ‘No, no, I am going to hold on and wait until West Ham spot me”? They are not going to do that, and it is better to work with people and try to get spotted from somewhere else. Therefore, I view the coalition as a positive opportunity for Liberal Democrats to make progress in government and bring some of our manifesto pledges to bear.
I wish to take this opportunity to draw to the House’s attention some of the problems that I have experienced and that some of my constituents have experienced in relation to the subject of this debate, “Progress and prospects in energy efficiency”. National Grid has put forward proposals to plant a series of pylons across the beautiful Somerset levels and the moors, and up through the neighbouring constituencies of Bridgwater and West Somerset, and North Somerset; the route goes from Hinkley Point to Seabank, in Avonmouth. It covers a distance of some 40 miles, but National Grid insists that it must transmit power from Hinkley Point through cables on overhead pylons. It wishes both to upgrade the current network and to prepare for some future transmission, which may come from wind farms, from a possible use of the Severn river—the barrage, the lagoon, the reef or whatever other method of transmission may come from that—or from microgeneration.
The people of Somerset understand that there is a need to transmit electricity from A to B, but they surely have a right to some say in how that is done and how it might come about. National Grid sounds like a lovely beneficial or philanthropic organisation, but people need to remember that it is nothing like the National Gallery or the National Trust; it is a multinational corporation with its shareholders’ interests at its heart. I say to hon. Members that it should be allowed—this House has a place in making this happen—to bring modern practice and thinking into its research and development functions. Pylons are a 1920s technology, and they are not the solution to 21st century transmission problems.
The pylons that the National Grid Company proposes will be 400,000 KV, they will be 46 metres high—that is 152 feet in old money—they will hum, they will buzz and, most importantly, they will completely destroy the tourism opportunities in my constituency. The Campaign to Protect Rural England is trying to remove overhead lines and make moves to ensure that National Grid does not put pylons through areas of special landscape beauty, such as the national parks, or areas of outstanding natural beauty, such as the Mendip hills. It is also trying to prevent green belt land from being used. However, in a rural area an awful lot of land is not designated as such.
When questioned, National Grid said that although a great deal of my constituency is under consideration for the 17th world heritage site in the country, since we had not achieved that status it did not have to have any regard to that fact. It seems that those who live in an urban area—the northern part of the line passes through bits of Bristol and Avonmouth—get automatic protection from this blight, because National Grid intends to put the power underground as it is near housing.
This problem does not just affect 38,000 people. There are already 22,000 pylons in this country and 4,370 miles of overhead lines, and with the movement towards more nuclear power and, as I have said, the other forms of transmission that will be necessary, they will be coming to a place near all of us soon. So I come back to the fact that National Grid insists that pylons are the cheapest and most efficient means of carrying electricity. It does that because the framework in which it exists and the decisions that it is allowed to make fall within, as far as I can see, the Electricity Act 1989 and various other rules, such as the Holford rules, which date back to 1959. Those rules are stopping National Grid from considering the other options.
All that people in my constituency want is a choice, and as of last October National Grid went out to what it called consultation. People have a choice of three routes—just two in my area, really. Those routes go near schools, they go across open land and they go near housing. We should not only consider economic efficiency and financial cost, as the Electricity Act 1989 insists. Views of efficiency must have changed since 1989. We must consider the whole-life costs of the construction of pylons. Surely we should be considering the environmental cost and the cost to land and farmers, such as those who are prevented from running organic farms because of the proximity of pylons. Most importantly, we must consider the issues of health, specifically that of children’s health. Finally, we must consider transmission losses.
National Grid faces opposition from thousands of local people. Some 38,000 are considered to be directly affected by the Hinkley to Avonmouth line alone. National Grid admitted that it was surprised by the number of responses that it received from people in Somerset and along the line. Up until now, it had received only 247—the maximum number of objections that it had ever had to any proposal. Now, after this so-called consultation, it is trying to respond to the 4,106 responses that it has received. The objectors notably include Griff Rhys Jones and Carol Vorderman. Bill Bryson, the CPRE’s president, is on record as saying:
“This is crazy—more pylons do not equal progress.”
Let me draw attention to the issue of health, in particular. There are illnesses—among them cancers, childhood leukaemia and depressive conditions—that are believed to be a health effect of living near high-voltage power lines. Studies at Bristol and at the university of California rate other illnesses and conditions as directly associated with electric and magnetic fields.
In particular, I want to draw the Minister’s attention to a huge study in Sweden, in which the effects of overhead power lines have been measured on 500,000 people over a period of 25 years. That study found overwhelming evidence that electrical fields generated cancer in children at four times the normal rate and at triple the rate in adults. Sweden now lists electromagnetic fields, which is exactly what we find with overhead lines, as a class 2 carcinogen along with tobacco. I could also quote from studies in Russia, India and the United States, and our Department of Health found a link between proximity to power lines and childhood leukaemia that was sufficient to warrant a precautionary recommendation, including the option to lay new power lines underground where possible and to prevent the building of new residential buildings within 60 metres of existing power lines.
We should consider the framework in which National Grid must exist and think carefully before we force overhead power lines on to people in Somerset and across the country. What local people want is choice. It would be sensible and logical for them to be told the costs, risks and benefits of all the different types of transmission that could be used. It is clear from practices across the world that power can be put overground, as is proposed, but also underground and undersea. Surely, the most logical way of joining Avonmouth to Hinkley would be undersea. That is what people require. People should have the opportunity to say what they want having received all the information that they should have received. National Grid is running a new consultation, which involves it shouting at local people what it has already said: all it is doing is explaining in more detail why it is right and why people should not have that choice.
Looking purely at the economic argument, even that can be dismissed because although National Grid says that underground routes might cost 10 or 20 times as much, its counterparts in Denmark and Germany have been able to use underground lines at between two and a maximum of five times the cost. Undersea lines are also being used, and there are grids around Europe and across the world. National Grid even admits that that would cost a fraction of a penny per kilowatt-hour. I and some of my electorate have costed its £1.2 billion plan, if there is such a thing—its proposal if it wanted to go undersea—and it comes out that the cost, over 50 years, would be but 33 pence per person per year. We should consider Bill Bryson’s comments on progress and the very bleak prospects for the people of Somerset in terms of this proposal and energy efficiency.
I ask the Minister to consider the draft national policy statement and to retrieve it from the black hole into which it may have disappeared before the election. I hope that he will look again at how we might make it work—for example, we could reconsider the Holford rules. Various paragraphs could be replaced by more balanced and neutral commentary on the pros and cons of undergrounding. Perhaps we should ask Ofgem to commit, in the next five years, to undergrounding a percentage of its network and to removing all the old pylons. We should also consider amending the Electricity Act 1989, particularly schedule 9, to require Ofgem and electricity companies to mitigate the landscape impact of electricity network infrastructure and to lay reports before Parliament on achievement.
I thank the Minister for considering the issues I have raised and for realising that the threats to rural communities are real, particularly in relation to tourism, which is our lifeblood in Somerset. Thank you for allowing me the luxury of time to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker. I promise to be an active and enthusiastic Member of the House in representing the people of Wells and Somerset.
May I take this opportunity to welcome you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to your new elected role? I look forward to serving in this House under your guidance. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt), who gave a very thoughtful and considered speech on the various aspects of her constituency. I am delighted to have been here for that.
In March the Conservatives proposed a
“radical overhaul of Britain’s energy policy”.
The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) was not above taking a sideswipe at what he called
“a succession of eleven energy Ministers and eight Secretaries of State”
in the 13 years under Labour, so I welcome the fact that, less than 13 weeks since that document was published, the Prime Minister has already appointed a new Minister with responsibility for energy efficiency, and a new Secretary of State.
However, it was not only the Energy Ministers who got a radical overhaul; Conservative energy policy did as well. The House will recall that in the Prime Minister’s “husky days”, when he went to Greenland to hug glaciers, we were told that nuclear power would be the Conservatives’ “energy of last resort”. Even so, in March they talked about fast-tracking the process of building new nuclear plant. Fast-tracking their energy of last resort?
That, of course, was Conservative policy BC—before Chris. The new Secretary of State was obviously keen to recycle the old policy—some might say that he would rather have composted it—as his views on nuclear energy are well known. As long ago as 5 November 2007 he set out his position on his website, as follows:
“Ministers must stop the side-show of new nuclear power stations now. Nuclear is a tried, tested and failed technology and the Government must stop putting time, effort and subsidies into reviving this outdated industry.”
No wonder it is called a coalition Government: some of them like coal, the rest of them prefer nuclear fission. It is a coal-ission—or perhaps it is more of a coll-ision.
The fact is that by 2020 the following nuclear stations will have closed: Wylfa, Oldbury, Hinkley Point B, Hunterston B, Heysham 1, Hartlepool and Dungeness B. The stations at Torness and Heysham 2 will follow soon thereafter. That is approximately 18% of the UK’s power generation that we will have to source elsewhere, just to maintain our current level of consumption. However, that description fails to account for any increase in population or consumption patterns, and it also means that a huge effort will be needed just to maintain an unsustainable status quo—a perfect description of Conservatism in general.
My hon. Friend is entirely right, and the example that he gives illustrates the extent of the gap opening up between our generation capacity and our predicted levels of consumption. I hope that he will pursue that point, perhaps in his own remarks later this afternoon.
Of course, the best way to manage this shortfall in supply is to engineer a corresponding shortfall in demand. That is where energy efficiency is critical, and I was delighted that the Minister of State with responsibility for energy efficiency visited the Mark Group’s home energy efficiency academy earlier this month to welcome their 1,000th graduate—Shaun, I believe his name was. The academy is exactly the sort of resource that we need if we are to make sure that our small and medium-sized construction enterprises have the skills that they need to retrofit insulation to all the UK’s housing stock.
I trust that the Minister will acknowledge the fact that the Mark Group academy was set up in November 2007 as part of the Labour Government’s green homes initiative. In fact, Bill Rumble, the Mark Group director, said at the time:
“We welcome the Prime Minister’s”—
that is our Prime Minister, not the Conservative party’s Prime Minister—
“environment plans as a real step in the right direction in the task of arresting climate change and reducing the UK’s carbon emissions.
The Mark Group agrees with Gordon Brown’s assertion that the UK can take a global lead in tackling climate change and in doing so generating thousands of jobs.”
I do not wish to detract from the Government’s green deal; indeed, I applaud it. We need to accelerate the work of insulating the millions of homes without adequate loft insulation, and the millions of homes without cavity wall insulation. However, I would simply make two points. It is all very well to celebrate the 1,000th graduate trainee, but it sits uneasily with the abolition of the Train to Gain programme, which helped small construction and other companies to acquire precisely such skills, and to equip themselves and their workers for the green jobs of the future.
The second point is that it makes no sense to ask householders to improve the energy efficiency of their homes at the same time as increasing the cost of doing so by 2.5%. I challenge the Secretary of State to show that deep inside his new Teflon Tory exterior there is still a limp Liberal longing to get out—to show us that the Liberal pledge before the election not to raise VAT was more than just the point scoring that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has claimed it was. I ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to speak to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. The latter is another Liberal, and is, I think, the Member with the longest constituency name—Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey. After yesterday’s oration to the House, he is also the Member with the shortest political credibility. They should agree to reduce VAT on the materials and labour used for increasing the energy efficiency of domestic properties. That would make a real difference. If the VAT on such work was 5% instead of 20%, that would go a tremendous way towards incentivising householders and other property owners to make sure that they do the necessary work.
If the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change will not do that, rolling out smart meters in every home; piloting pay-as-you-save and ways to make homes greener; introducing clean energy cashback schemes; and making the UK a centre of green industry—all that—is just so much recycling of the stated policy of the last Government, as set out in the “The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan”, published in July last year. The truth is that approximately 90% of what Ministers have announced in their green deal comes from that document. No wonder earlier this month the Department issued a YouTube video entitled “Chris Huhne launches Wind Week”.
Today, the Committee on Climate Change released its second annual report on progress towards a low-carbon economy. The committee makes it clear that we can deliver on our commitment to reduce emissions by at least 34% by 2020, but only if we accelerate our roll-out of renewables and effect a step change in domestic energy efficiency. So let me welcome the Secretary of State’s remarks today, in which he said:
“we mustn’t rely on economic recession to cut emissions.”
I agree. He continued:
“There has to be an enduring shift to low carbon…locked into the fabric of our economy in good times and bad.”
I commend to him “A Woodfuel Strategy for England”. After a very modest investment of about £16 million—million, not billion—a year for only seven years, it would show net benefits of approximately £30 million a year in energy cost savings, and would save 400,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions. More than that, it would improve the biodiversity of our woodland heritage by cropping, lopping and clearing deadwood from under-managed woodland. The equivalent of 250,000 homes could be heated for a net £30 million benefit per annum, and the reinvigoration of our broadleaf woodlands—a truly efficient ecosystem-based solution. I hope the Minister will speak to his colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and implement this strategy as part of his green deal.
The hon. Gentleman is an acknowledged expert and has a distinguished record in the field of woodland and forestry, in particular. It is hard to conceive how that would fit into the green deal, but I acknowledge his expertise and I personally have an interest in being more ambitious in relation to the wood economy. If he would care to come into the Department and discuss it with me and officials, we could look at ways in which, in the context of these straitened financial times, we could do more to support that industry.
I am grateful to the Minister for that offer, and I would be happy to take him up on it.
The wood fuel strategy is an important element of our energy efficiency programme. Wood is renewable and can be sourced locally, minimising transport costs. It is incredibly efficient, and represents part of the way in which we could transform local communities. I think that the Minister was present when there was an intervention from the Opposition Benches about the bulk provision of heat to communities and the importance of large biomass boilers, which could provide for communities in a much more energy-efficient way. That fits in with the wider aims of an energy efficiency strategy. I am grateful to the Minister for his offer, and look forward to speaking to him further about it.
If we are to make real progress on energy efficiency, public transport must become a priority for the new Government, which currently it is not. To put it simply, public transport must be the easiest, most accessible, most affordable and most reliable service available to the public. I was disappointed that the Minister said not one word about public transport as an instrument for delivering energy efficiency. Transport represents a fifth of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions; it did not represent so much as one fiftieth of his speech.
However, I welcome the new Government’s proposal to introduce a minimum price for carbon. The second progress report from the independent Committee on Climate Change, which was published today, states:
“The carbon price within the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), and future expected prices, remain low. For the interim period before new electricity market arrangements are introduced, and in the absence of EU-wide action, there is a strong case for introduction of a UK carbon price floor”.
If the private sector is to be encouraged to invest in a low-carbon future, it must be given confidence that its investment will reap appropriate rewards. A floor price for carbon gives stability, and that certainty for the market that will drive investment. I welcome it.
Sometimes in this debate, party Front-Bench spokespeople have been tempted to imply that only their party has seen the light, saw the light first, or uniquely has the solutions to our energy problems. I was a late convert to environmental matters. Indeed, my family sometimes still admonish me for putting apple cores in the wrong bin. The environment was not on my political radar when I entered the House 13 years ago. Now I hold it to be the most vital topic on the political agenda, so I welcome the Conservative party’s proposals for improving energy efficiency. However late they are I welcome them, especially where they have adopted good Labour party proposals. I welcome them even more when they get Liberals to go nuclear, even if under the coalition agreement the Liberals do not have to vote nuclear.
I hope the new Government will live up to their undoubted enthusiasm and undoubted good intentions on energy efficiency and climate change, but I warn them that we on the Opposition Benches will hold them to account where they backslide, and for the areas in which they fail to make the progress that we all need.
It is a pleasure to be called in the debate and to follow such excellent maiden speeches, most recently from my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Lorraine Fullbrook) and the hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt). My hon. Friend invoked the spirit of the suffragettes, and I am sure that she will have to plant no bombs in order to make an impact in the House. Her colleagues were most satisfied at her victory at the general election. The hon. Member for Wells gave a full and beautiful account of her lovely constituency, which I have visited, and I have enjoyed the Glastonbury music festival myself. She also touched briefly on the wonderful produce available in her constituency—the cheese and the cider. That was rather cruel on those of us who have been sitting here since before Prime Minister’s questions and have not yet had lunch. Those are two very different constituencies, but they share one thing in common—they have fluent and talented Members of Parliament who are prepared to stand up for their constituents and fight passionately for them in the Chamber. I congratulate both Members on their maiden speeches.
There can be no doubt that we have, in this coalition Government, a Government who are prepared to make huge changes in our energy policy, including in respect of energy efficiency, and we have heard much about that from those on the Front Bench today. This is something that my constituents in Corby and east Northamptonshire will welcome very much. In my constituency, 12.8% of households still live in fuel poverty, and any measures that the Government can bring to bear that will assist them will be incredibly welcome. I was encouraged to hear my hon. Friend the Minister touch on the Government’s commitment to lead from the front by reducing energy consumption by over 10% in Whitehall Departments in this year alone, 2010—the 10:10 programme.
One aspect of energy saving that has not yet been touched on in the debate is the way that the transparency revolution, which the Prime Minister intends to bring into all areas of government, will effect energy savings. Maidenhead council led the way by putting online in real time its energy consumption, and as soon as ratepayers could see the amount of energy consumed by the council, energy use in the council dropped during the next few months by 15%. Transparency is one other avenue that we can explore at local and national government level to ensure that we lead by example.
As various other hon. Members have mentioned—my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) and the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) did so, and even the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) touched on this in her opening remarks—efficiency in energy goes two ways: we must play defence but we must also play attack. I am in the unusual position of agreeing with the hon. Gentleman when I say that we must look at energy policy in the round. We cannot consider energy efficiency if we do not also look at the ways in which energy is being generated. This is of great concern to my constituents in Corby and east Northamptonshire, who are very concerned about saving the planet. I am a Conservative; I wish to conserve. I wish to conserve both the world in which we live and the beautiful countryside of east Northamptonshire, which I represent.
In north Northamptonshire, 10 separate wind farms have been applied for or are in development, of which three threaten my constituency and are very much opposed by local people. I hope that when Ministers consider energy policy and the vital importance of renewables, they will maintain our true commitment to localism. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said that one size does not fit all, and that must remain true. East Northamptonshire has one of the lowest wind areas in the United Kingdom, and energy must be efficient when it is produced just as when it is consumed. My constituents remember the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) saying that he intended to impose onshore wind turbines even when they were not wanted. He said:
“Government needs to be saying it is socially unacceptable to be against wind turbines in your area—like not wearing a seatbelt.”
I happen to believe that it is both sensible and prudent for the people of east Northamptonshire to oppose wind farms in their area, given that they are in the lowest wind area in the United Kingdom. They live in an area of extraordinary natural beauty, and it is my duty to help to preserve it.
Let us compare the efficiencies of onshore and offshore wind. I shall try not to blind the House with statistics in the manner of the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), but a couple are worth listening to, because the difference in output is so remarkable. Out of 262 UK wind farms, 250 are onshore, and they produce about 3,500 MW between them. The mere 12 that are offshore, however, produce about 1,000 MW between them, and that level of efficiency must be taken into account when we look at wind power and how it is generated.
My hon. Friend the Minister spoke about a step change, and given our current situation, and the fact that we are considering energy efficiency and a low-carbon economy, that is exactly what is needed. We will not shift to a low-carbon economy unless we embrace nuclear power. If we are to embrace nuclear power and bring it in to provide for energy efficiency, energy security and a low-carbon economy, we must bring the public with us, but we will not do so unless we look at safe ways of disposing of nuclear waste.
My constituency also faces the prospect of a nuclear dump in the village of King’s Cliffe, 20 miles from which 250,000 people live in various towns and cities. The dump is opposed by local authorities of all stripes, from Labour-controlled Corby borough council to Tory-controlled East Northamptonshire council and Northamptonshire county council. I am a huge supporter of nuclear power, but it cannot be delivered if applications for dumps completely ignore safety levels. The application in my constituency is essentially nothing more than a large hole in the ground. An application has also been made to transport huge volumes of low-level waste across the country. The previous Government introduced that change in policy, and until then the site could not even have been considered. When rain reacts with the waste, radioactive leachate forms, and that will have to be pumped out and transported to Avonmouth.
I have listened carefully to the hon. Lady. She is in favour of nuclear but not in her area, because of the consequences; and she is in favour of wind but not in her area, because of the consequences. Are there any appropriate low-carbon technologies for her area which she could support?
I am in favour of nuclear power. I am in favour of the safe disposal of nuclear waste. I am not in favour of the unsafe disposal of nuclear waste, which is proposed for my area, where there are no nuclear power stations for miles around. I am in favour of wind power, and, as I said, I am in favour of offshore wind power, which is highly efficient. Sadly, however, my constituency is landlocked, so I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks, namely that I am in favour of offshore wind power in my constituency, because there is nowhere to put it.
In contrast, let us look at safe nuclear waste disposal sites—the type that will encourage public confidence in a new generation of nuclear power stations. The Dounreay site in Caithness has already received planning permission, and in contradistinction it proposes to put waste in steel drums, compact them and place them inside steel containers within a concrete-lined and covered vault. I can see how that would instil confidence in people. The people in King’s Cliffe and its surrounding areas have all the confidence of knowing that there is a certain type of clay at the site. The application does not even possess a roof.
Is it any wonder that my constituents have asked me for help? My predecessor said that he would not get involved because it was “a planning matter”, but I happen to believe that on such major planning matters people cry out for an MP’s protection. A true carbon economy must be based on nuclear power. Is it nimbyism to say that an application is completely unsuitable? I do not think it is if one can make the case. Hundreds of my constituents have made that case in their representations to me, and when the application comes up for appeal in October I shall write to the relevant Secretaries of State to oppose it most vehemently.
In my mind, the most important thing that has happened in the field of energy over the past couple of years is the announcement in Japan by Toyota that it is developing a solar cell that can power a car. That will truly change geopolitics, energy security and our planet. Indeed, “Passion”, the excellent book that I wrote in 2010 and was nominated as romantic novel of the year—I highly recommend it to the House—was a thriller based around just that theme. I urge the Minister and the rest of the Front-Bench team to look long and hard at investing in solar power once the technology is in place to harness the power of the sun. There will no local objections anywhere to the power of the sun, so we will be in very good shape.
Meanwhile, I know that the Front-Bench team are doing everything that they can. I ask them again to look at the transparency revolution and encourage local councils to bring forward efficiency measures and put their energy use online, so that people see savings being made in real time.
In the speech that he made when standing for the leadership of my party, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister famously said:
“Let sunshine win the day”,
and a little transparency in energy conservation would surely not go amiss. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; I look forward to hearing further contributions.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; you have taken the words out of my mouth. Perhaps the Minister will place some very large solar panels in the constituency of the hon. Member for Corby (Ms Bagshawe).
Let us get on with the issue of prospects in energy efficiency. First, I should like to talk about the situation of the Welsh Assembly Government and the cuts. As we know, energy efficiency does not often get called a front-line service. Housing and education are clearly front-line services, but they take a large proportion of the Assembly budget. What money is left for the measures such as those carried out by the Department for Communities and Local Government in England—housing issues—and the excellent Welsh Home Energy Efficiency scheme, which is similar to the English Warm Front scheme? It worries me that the cuts to the Assembly Government could disproportionately affect what energy efficiency measures they are able to implement.
The Assembly Government have some innovative schemes in the valleys, where they are renovating ageing properties, which have traditionally had poor energy efficiency. That type of scheme could be under threat. I hope that the Minister will make representations to Treasury Ministers that particular consideration needs to be given to protecting energy efficiency budgets. That also applies to the money passed to the Assembly Government.
Sometimes, there are special schemes that attract a “Barnett consequential”—a technical term for additional funding for a recently announced Government measure that had not previously been put into the budget. The boiler scrappage scheme came under that title. If we do not get the funding in, a lot of the good work that has been going on could easily dry up.
We have to give much greater priority to energy efficiency than has been evident in much of the talk about which services we can protect. We all understand that if we get the investment in and continue to push for considerable amounts of energy efficiency savings, that will have considerable impact on savings made by individuals and public bodies.
During the last Government, there were productive discussions about feed-in tariffs and in April this year a scheme was launched, incentivising those who produce their own energy to produce extra, which they can feed into the grid. Such people are often extremely conscious of energy efficiency measures in their own homes, and they also contribute to the energy needs of the nation. I am disappointed that feed-in tariffs have not yet been extended to people who already had energy-saving equipment installed in their homes—the pioneers who two or three years ago, when such things were much more expensive and not so many Government grants were available, were putting photovoltaic systems, solar panels or wind turbines on their properties and were able to feed electricity into the grid. The coalition Government need to look carefully at what they can do to ensure that those who already had these installations benefit from the feed-in tariffs, not necessarily backdating that to cover all the electricity that has ever been produced from such installations, but from April, when that benefit was introduced for people who had new installations put in.
That relates to an issue that I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) will mention—renewable heat incentives. I will leave him to elaborate further, but it is another matter that the coalition Government need to look at again. They should support the plans that we had for 2011.
A difficulty appears to have arisen across the country in terms of electricity costs, which are allowed to vary because Ofgem accepts that varying costs in different geographical areas reflect the cost of service provision. However, that leaves people in south Wales with an average electricity bill of perhaps £467 per year, while those in the midlands may pay £433 per year. Surely such regional differences are an outdated anomaly when the market has been opened up so that all providers can now supply different areas and one supplier no longer supplies one area alone. Will the Minister have talks with Ofgem to see whether the current pricing arrangements can be looked at again, because they do not seem to be very fair and equitable?
I am also very concerned about rented property. It is often the poorest families who find themselves in private rented accommodation, some of which is frankly disgraceful. It can be very draughty because it has never been properly insulated, and the costs that residents pay for their energy provision are enormous. They often do not have central heating and are paying for the bar on the electric fire or the most inefficient forms of gas fire. There has been no encouraging sign from the Government, or from the Minister today, that they are going to regulate landlords in the way that Labour planned to do. This needs to be tackled head on, not only in regulating the types and standards of property but in incentivising landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency ratings of the properties that they rent out. The lack of such energy efficiency is a serious problem for those members of our society who are least able to pay.
Another issue that the Minister would do well to tackle is waste in commercial premises. When we put on our coats to go and do our shopping in the autumn, in the run-up to Christmas, we find ourselves in various forms of shop or shopping centre with open doors and enormously overheated areas. Of course we must have a reasonable amount of heat for the shop assistants working there, but an awful lot of people complain that they are absolutely boiling when they are walking around these shops. Obviously the shops would benefit from spending a lot less on the heat that they are producing, but as yet they still seem to be doing it. There is a great need for discussions with the Minister about ways of trying to keep temperatures down to sensible levels and thereby make considerable savings; perhaps there could be voluntary codes. Linked to that is the huge amount of money that is spent on heating and lighting shop displays for 24 hours a day. Perhaps we could think about guidelines on the excessive amount of energy that is used in commercial premises at all hours, even when they are not open to the public.
Public transport is a major source of energy use, and it contributes significantly to what we can do about our carbon emissions. I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) considerable disappointment that we have not heard a lot more about it, either from the Minister today or in the coalition Government’s programme.
We need to continue to invest heavily in rail infrastructure, whether through electrification of the line from London to south Wales, which I hope will go further than Swansea and out into west Wales, or through building terminals that enable freight to go by rail more easily. That could be achieved through increased rolling stock, because people do not enjoy a journey when they are packed into an overcrowded train like sardines in a tin, and they therefore revert to going by car. All those matters need to be considered carefully if we are to reduce the amount of car traffic.
There is rolling stock for Sunday trains, and it is a great shame that it is not used more extensively. In my area, people of course go shopping on Sundays, and they like to go to sporting events and the seaside. However, we are on the main line from London to west Wales and the earliest train that we can get on a Sunday from Llanelli to Tenby, a well known seaside resort, is at quarter to 3 in the afternoon. When someone gets their family there it is quarter past 4, by which time there is no point being there for a nice day at the seaside. Instead, people pile into their cars and cause traffic jams and huge queues at Carmarthen. When they get to Tenby, the traffic is so bad that there is a park-and-ride scheme to keep the town centre free for pedestrians. It is an absolute nightmare, but if people could go by train it would all be avoided. We need to reconsider people’s ability to go away for weekends to stay with their families and so forth, and we need a much clearer picture of franchise requirements for Sundays, which should reflect changed lifestyle patterns. I hope that the Minister will talk to his colleagues in the Department for Transport to see whether they can give public transport a greater priority.
Another matter that I should like the Minister to take up with his colleagues in the DFT is encouraging people to think about their fuel consumption in their private cars. I think a few Members are in their places who will remember the 1970s, when a limit of 50 mph was imposed because of the so-called fuel crisis. A lot of people are unaware of the different fuel consumption patterns of their vehicles and the fact that going at very high speeds can often increase consumption considerably. We need a public information campaign, as we have had on other energy efficiency matters, to point out to people what savings they can make. People are incentivised by the idea of saving, but they are unaware or forget that savings exist. Obviously the situation is not the same for all vehicles. They vary, and technology has improved enormously, but there are still savings to be made and well informed public information campaigns could help considerably.
I shall finish now, because I know that many other Members would like to get in. We have to ensure that we do not let the whole issue of reducing our emissions and being as energy efficient as possible become sidelined by people who say, “We cannot afford to do that because of the financial crisis”. We cannot afford not to do it, because great savings can be made from both the public purse and private individuals’ pockets. We must all make the most of every opportunity to push the Government for a much more energy-efficient programme.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak. I missed the opening speeches, and I am very sorry about that. It was an error on my part—I was somewhere else when they were taking place, and I regret it because I would have liked to hear what the Front Benchers said. I may well repeat something that has already been said. Nevertheless, energy efficiency is a really important subject, and it is great that we are having this debate.
While I was sitting here and hearing about the fuel crisis of the 1970s, when Ted Heath was Prime Minister, I was reminded of the fact that the Department of Energy was created at that time to solve the crisis of the shortage of fuel and deal with the issue of coal. More recently, the Department of Energy and Climate Change has been created to carry out the different task of ensuring that our energy use is more efficient and carbon-friendly. I welcomed its new guise when it was introduced by the Labour Government and I salute it now as it is still in place.
The most important thing that we can do is liberalise the energy market to encourage more transparency and competition. By doing that, we would effectively introduce new systems of energy provision, which would to some extent be micro—and I will have much to say about one particular form later. It is essential that we recognise that the energy market in the future has to be much more liberal in both supply and demand terms, although I shall concentrate on supply today.
The coalition Government have made some fantastic strides forward and have in place an excellent team of Ministers in DECC. The Government have also introduced the green deal, and I note that that has been well saluted by Labour Members as it has by my colleagues. The Government are also talking about a smart grid approach. It is important that we have a grid that is much more receptive to new types of energy from smaller micro locations. I made much of feed-in tariffs during the election campaign, because my constituency is really excited about such issues, and those tariffs will be a huge step in the right direction. The green investment bank will also encourage new technologies to be developed and launched.
One of those new technologies must be modern micro hydro schemes. The role that micro hydro generation can play will be enormous, and it will help in several other areas. What is a micro hydro scheme? A small scheme generates between 1 MW and 15 MW, a mini scheme generates less than 1 MW but more than 100 KW and a micro scheme generates between 5 KW and 100 KW. The latter is sufficient to supply half a small community or small rural industry, and that is what I want to talk about in some detail today.
It is true that sometimes it is difficult to introduce technology of any description, because there is always someone to say that it should not be adopted. Wind power has that difficulty, and actually so does hydro power. We must think more in terms of incentivising, rather than of yielding to the “not in my back yard” approach. That is an important point for all micro energy schemes.
Hydro schemes, by their very nature, will be bespoke. They deal with water, and it does not come in square tins ready for tapping, but in rivers, ponds, pools and mills that are all different shapes. The other important aspect of hydro schemes is that they can help in dealing with other things, such as flood management. In Stroud, we have quite a lot of flood problems, including floods down valleys and along the vale. Controlling water through some sort of flood management scheme can lead to a hydro electric solution, and we can consider that as part of our overall environmental policies.
In Stroud, for example, I can see opportunities where introducing hydro schemes would also help flood problems by harnessing water halfway up a valley rather than allowing it to flood at the bottom. In fact, I am hoping to speak to the Minister shortly on this very subject, because he has been to Stroud and looked at a typical mill pond with all the characteristics one would need, first, for flood management and, secondly, for electricity production through a hydro scheme. I hope that will be developed in some detail. There are plenty of opportunities for that elsewhere in the country. Stroud has more than 200 old mills, but there are more than 20,000 across England, all of which, to some extent, could play a role in hydro generation. We need to bear that in mind.
May I assure my hon. Friend that although I visited his constituency while we were in opposition, I well remember the visit and was extremely impressed with that micro hydro installation? There is plenty of scope for increasing the role of microgeneration technology in particular. He is absolutely right that it plays a dual role in generating electricity and in flood abatement, and I can assure him that the Department is looking with fresh eyes at this issue.
I thank the Minister very much. That is more than worth the time I waited to make this speech.
I want to expand my argument. Small households can also have micro schemes, which I would like to see and which we can enable. This country has so many waterways open to that very small potential scheme. However, there are things to be aware of, one of which is the Environment Agency’s responsibility for managing waterways. It has functions connected with, for example, fish management. Fish and hydro schemes do not, of course, necessarily go together, because as somebody pointed out to me the other day, a hydro scheme is a very good fish masher. So we need to find ways of protecting fish and allowing them to flourish rather than simply putting them through a masher. However, the Environment Agency also needs to be encouraged to note the advantages of flood management and hydro power when considering its overall responsibilities for waterways.
When I went last week to an npower-sponsored event encouraging universities to think about new technology, particularly energy technology, I noticed just how imaginative students can be. Two universities won. Bristol university came up effectively with a mobile telephone tariff system for energy supply, which is well worth considering and expanding. I am hoping to talk to the university in more detail about its scheme, because I think it could be quite useful. The university of Birmingham came up with a scheme for hydro power and made it clear that it is not so much the flow that matters as the amount of water available. It did some interesting mathematical calculations to make that point. Again, I want to take that up in more detail. In essence, we need to liberalise the energy market, particularly in small-scale areas, and hydropower can, and will, play a significant role.
My second point is about nuclear power. The hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) talked about nuclear power and commented on the Liberal Democrats’ position on it compared with our own. I am keen on nuclear power because I recognise that it is obviously the provider of a base load. We have to understand that a significant amount of energy will always be used at any time, and the kind of facilities needed to produce that will include a nuclear power station.
Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the President of France from 1974 to 1981, tackled energy pressures in France quite well, by recognising that France should not be dependent on oil, but instead move over to nuclear power. Today, more than 80% of French energy is produced by nuclear power, with the rest produced by renewables; and anyone who drives down as a holidaymaker, as I often do, can see quite a lot of renewables.
My hon. Friend is making some important points about nuclear power. Does he agree that sensible planning for the future needs of nuclear power and the amount of base load energy that we might require from nuclear energy is important? It would be sensible to advance with as many viable sites as possible, in order that we can get as much new nuclear on stream as soon as possible, so does he also agree that Dungeness power station in my constituency should be considered as an additional site for the new build programme?
I concur with everything that my hon. Friend has said. We need to plan ahead and recognise that even if we start building a new power station tomorrow, we would still be getting less electricity from nuclear power for some time to come because of the decommissioning process, so we need to take action and get on with it. However, there are some key points to be made, and one of them must be this: nuclear power has to be cost-effective. It is important that we recognise that. The second most important thing—this is especially important for me, as I have a nuclear power station in my constituency that is being decommissioned—is that the cost of the clean-up must be included in the cost of the overall nuclear bill. We cannot go on mopping up afterwards. We have to be sure that the cost of building and running a nuclear power station includes the cost of clean-up.
I used to work at Berkeley power station a few years ago, so I am familiar with it, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman of the deep affection in which nuclear power is held in his constituency, as I am sure he knows. One thing that would perhaps concern me about the coalition’s plans for cuts is the effect on the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. One point that I hope he will be raising with the Minister is that when the NDA’s budget is set for the next five to 10 years, the important thing will be getting the right decommissioning strategy, not keeping his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer happy.
I certainly recognise the public expenditure pressures on the decommissioning costs at Berkeley, because I was there when a reduction was made in the spending round towards the tail-end of the previous Government, so I tend to agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said. I am pleased that he was at Berkeley and I hope that he enjoyed it there. It is in a beautiful part of my constituency, notwithstanding the fact that the power station is still there in its concrete form. The rest of the area is absolutely beautiful, and it is a perfectly safe place to be. I have been there several times myself, so if the hon. Gentleman still has any friends there, I will pass on his greetings.
That is what I wanted to say about nuclear power—that it has to be cost-effective and include the cost of clean-up—but I agree that we need a plan to ensure that we know where the next power stations are going to be.
My hon. Friend is making some excellent points about nuclear power. Does he agree that in order to advance the programme, we need to take local people with us? Does he also agree that his constituency and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) and for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) are perfect examples of where local people are welcoming and embracing nuclear power, which is what we need to bring forward?
We certainly do need to have localism in our planning system. It is great that this Government are so determined to ensure that local people have a proper say in all aspects of planning—certainly in housing, and also in infrastructure and energy—and quite right too. The answer to a lot of these issues is to incentivise local communities to take up the things that are not only necessary in our national interest but able to reflect their concerns. It is quite right that our people are keener than one might imagine on building nuclear power. I am from the north-east, so I know a little bit about Windscale—it is Sellafield now; I am quite old. There is support in those places, so I agree with my hon. Friend.
I want to say a few words about transport, as public transport in particular was mentioned earlier. The key thing is that we need to consider electric cars more than we have in the past. We need to recognise that they are a reality and that we can develop the technology in ways that would impress someone like Jeremy Clarkson. The brutal fact is that the electric car will in the long run be a reliable thing to get about in for long journeys, and the charging of those cars might well turn out to be easier than we first imagined.
I am delighted to say that my constituency has a manufacturer—Himag—producing transformers no bigger than a fist that can propel a Hummer vehicle. If anyone knows anything about a Hummer vehicle, they will know that it is large and heavy. That sort of technology is already out and about, and some large car manufacturers—Renault is one example, I believe—are already preparing to launch a range of models that would suit families or individuals quite well. I believe that those cars will be on the market in two or three years’ time. We should celebrate and encourage that sort of technology.
Trains are also really important. I use the train all the time. From Stroud, it has to be diesel because we do not have electrified lines, but we need to think more about that. We also need to think about getting more trains on the track, as we now have the technology that allows that to happen. We should invest in that technology so that we can produce the train that takes people to where they need to be and thus increase traffic flow.
I was impressed by the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Tessa Munt), who talked about pylons. She is quite right that pylons crossing the landscape are not particularly attractive, but I would end on this important point about electricity supply. There are people living in Amberley who would just love to have a reliable electricity supply; they are waiting for underground cables to be put in, so that a proper electricity supply can get to all parts of the area. It is important to realise that there are ways of doing these things and also that local communities, such as Littleworth in Amberley, have needs.
In summary, I think that liberalising the market is the key. Having confidence in technology is also essential, as is being willing to take those technologies forward by incentivising local communities and individuals to grasp the opportunities before them. Those are the ways in which we can, first, secure our energy supply and, secondly, make sure that that supply is good for our environment and good for the communities that use the energy.
I have detected that in recent contributions we seem to be falling into something of a nuclear idyll, so I want to try to pour a little cooling water, shall we say, on that particular idyll. We need to recognise that nuclear power and its consequences—irrespective of whether they are loved by local citizens or built in the Corby constituency—are some way away. There will in all probability be no nuclear power coming on stream until the early 2020s. If and when it comes on stream, assuming that new nuclear power stations are built at no public expense, they will be relatively small in output over the early years.
This emphasises that nuclear power is not coming over the hill tomorrow to save us all as far as low-carbon energy is concerned. The targets on carbon emissions reduction and, indeed, the replacement of something like 40% of our generation and transmission capacity by the early 2020s will have to be achieved without nuclear power by means relating to renewable energy, the building of conventional power plants—I trust with carbon capture technology—and, of course, a very substantial step forward in energy efficiency.
My hon. Friend raises the interesting point of the possible life expectancy of nuclear power plants. I recognise that there is something of a dilemma in respect of old and new nuclear power stations and predictions of extensions, and that there are issues such as core cracking and whether extensions can be safely undertaken. He makes a fair point, however, that some extensions might be undertaken to bridge the gap. The key point, however, is that one of the best ways to ensure our energy supplies are secure over the coming period and that the generation meets the demand is to ensure that there is less demand for energy, and that the energy we do use is used much more efficiently.
I agree with my hon. Friend that even if we start building nuclear power stations now, there will be a 10-year period before they really start to have an impact, but unless we take that decision now we will face an even greater gap in future, which we will have to fill by some other means. Just putting that decision off until tomorrow will make the matter worse in future.
My hon. Friend is tempting me into an entirely different debate, in which there are very interesting considerations relating not least to a new report on the renewable valuation around our coasts and on our land and how we might be able to use those renewables for our long-term, as well as our shorter-term, future energy supply. I suspect, however, that if I were to address that topic, you might suggest that I have strayed rather far from the issues we are debating today, on which I do want to concentrate, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Energy efficiency is a crucial component of our future energy landscape. I am pleased that the energy efficiency ambitions that the new Government have set out continue those proposed, and acted upon, by the previous Government. I recognise that the new ministerial team has strong personal commitments to these issues, and therefore energy efficiency has a bright start in terms of ambition and of understanding that this area is crucial. After all, 40% of our energy is consumed in buildings and that represents 40% of our carbon emissions. About 80% of household energy goes on heating our homes and water, and that alone represents some 13% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, getting a serious grip on energy efficiency in our homes and commercial and industrial buildings offers potentially enormous, and relatively early, rewards in respect of our overall position on carbon emissions and energy consumption.
However, we as a country face this situation from a poor position historically. It is true that the previous Government made enormous strides in improving energy efficiency, particularly of public sector homes, and homes provided by registered social landlords. The Committee on Climate Change report that was published today conspicuously states that its indicators for activity on loft insulation, cavity wall insulation and energy efficiency in homes were met during the last year of the previous Labour Government. Considerable progress has been made, but our private sector homes remain energy-inefficient. The average standard assessment procedure rating in private sector homes is 49, which is a long way from level that we ought to aim for if we are to have a reasonable expectation that homes will be relatively energy-efficient and will have a low output of waste and energy emissions as far as the activities of the people who live in them are concerned.
We can all agree that this House has substantial energy-efficiency ambitions, that there is urgent action to be undertaken and that a number of programmes are in process and a number of ambitious new programmes, some of which we have heard about this afternoon, could get under way to address those issues. We need to examine whether the ambitions are being met, whether we have the ability to make those changes in practice and whether other things might be done to ensure that the ambitions are realised.
As a small indicator of the difference between ambitions and realisation I shall discuss the new part L of the building regulations, which were published recently. I had anticipated that it would contain new guidelines on the energy efficiency of circulation pumps in central heating. If, as was suggested during consultation by the previous Government, the regulations had mandated new and very energy-efficient circulation pumps, we could have saved as much as 2% of the electricity consumption in households—that could have been done by that measure alone. However, the new regulations state that it is perfectly okay to have circulation pumps that are A to G rated, not the A to C rated that had been anticipated. That shows an immediate difference between ambition and practice. I sincerely hope that the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), who has been inviting various other people to come to see him about various issues, will invite me in the very near future to a round-table meeting on circulation pumps and why they should be more energy-efficient. I am sure that he will find time in his busy diary to have a substantial round-table meeting on that pressing issue. I cite that issue as a small example to show that one needs to keep one’s eye closely on the difference between the reality of achievement and the ambition that one has when one puts forward new plans.
The plan that has been the centrepiece of this afternoon’s discussion is the green deal. I feel like someone who is being told that a great new concerto is coming out, that it is about to be performed and that when people turn up to the concert hall they will find that it is terrific, but who has not been told whether it is by Mozart or Salieri. I presume that when we get to the concert hall we will find out whether the green deal is as good as we are led to believe. On the surface, a green deal that takes away the idea of an up-front loan and places the onus on the long-term consequences of the bills of those household consumers, their descendants or the next people who come along to the house appears to represent a positive way forward. We must recognise that that has limitations. Just as the pay-as-you-save scheme implemented by the previous Government had its limitations, this green deal also has potential substantial limitations.
This is a very important point. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We do not for a minute expect the green deal to be able to cover the whole gamut of energy-efficiency installations. I think I said in my opening speech that there will be hard-to-treat properties and that some of the most vulnerable fuel-poor will not be covered sufficiently by the green deal pay-as-you-save model. That is where we will look to restructure completely and focus even more the ongoing long-term energy supplier obligation.
I thank the Minister for that clarification. He anticipates, to a little extent, some of the things that I was going to say about the consequences of the green deal and the issues that surround it, such as the problems of hard-to-treat homes, which we need to take seriously if we are to make progress as far as energy efficiency is concerned.
Let us be clear: the green deal will concern itself primarily with owner-occupied houses in the private sector where there is a deal on hand. I stand to be corrected, but it seems to me that there is substantial work to be done as far as the social housing sector, the public housing sector and, indeed, hard-to-treat properties are concerned.
The beauty of the green deal as conceived and as we intend to implement it is that it applies to all sectors of housing. It is most applicable to the area that has been hardest to treat and in which there has been least progress in the past—that is, the private rented sector. It will finally cut through that Gordian knot as landlords will not have to pay the up-front costs for benefits that will accrue to their tenants. There will now be a real incentive and no financial disincentive for landlords to upgrade their properties and increase the quality of life of their tenants while decreasing their energy bills. That will be a real bonus.
Again, I thank the Minister for that clarification. The beauty of the concert that we are about to hear is being talked up again. However, the questions of hard-to-treat properties, rented properties, landlords and partnerships are all issues that we must consider very carefully in deciding how the green deal and other elements will work best together as far as energy efficiency is concerned.
We have heard mention this afternoon, for example, of the partnership between local authorities, third sector organisations and consumers in the comprehensive redevelopment of energy-efficiency retrofitting of homes. We have heard about the very good example of Kirklees borough council. Interestingly, the example of Kirklees was based on the injection by Kirklees of £10 million into the process in partnership with other local authorities.
In that context, thinking, among other things, about the debate that we had in this House yesterday on local government financing and local government cuts, I ask a question of myself. As a result of the cuts being handed out to local authorities, will there be local authorities that have £10 million to invest in future partnership arrangements? That will be very important in getting progress on the future arrangements represented at present by the community energy saving programme as far as whole-area developments in local authority areas are concerned. Will the enfeeblement of local authorities’ ability to undertake such new initiatives be such that we will have eliminated one of the partners in that process in the not-too-distant future?
I have a small point to make regarding landlords. The changes in housing benefit that are coming about might cause landlords at least to question whether to invest in their properties given the return that they might get in rent, so there are side effects, in relation to other policy decisions, that might have an impact on ambitions for the green deal.
One important issue that I have mentioned is whether the green deal simply includes passive insulation and energy-efficiency measures such as loft insulation and cavity wall insulation. Does it go beyond that to include householders’ ability to generate their own energy and therefore to operate much more efficiently in terms of net emissions? In the code for sustainable homes, the target for 2016, in terms of new build housing, will include accession to a level 6 arrangement, but that could not be adhered to without some form of microgeneration power production being built into those homes when the zero-carbon target is agreed.
The Minister is right to say that we should not substitute microgeneration for energy-efficiency measures, as they are consequent on each other. However, in a real programme for developing energy efficiency in homes over the medium term, microgeneration has to be seen as very important within any efficiency drive in those homes. If we simply eliminate microgeneration from the process, we will put back for a considerable time the possibility of microgeneration following on from those energy-efficiency arrangements.
It was interesting to see nothing in the Budget for Warm Front. I assume that, in the vision put forward by the Government, it will effectively be subsumed into the green deal because it apparently has very wide effects. If Warm Front is simply collapsed within a few years’ time, the works that have been undertaken under Warm Front, which include the possibility of putting microgeneration devices into homes, will be lost and a group of hard-to-reach consumers who might not be particularly advantaged by the green deal will also be lost in the process.
On Warm Front, let me assure the hon. Gentleman that more than £300 million is available for a programme of work through this year and the winter to March 2011. That stands, and no long-term decisions have yet been made about Warm Front. As I have said, we recognise that there will always be a need for special arrangements for the most vulnerable people and hard-to-treat homes, and that we cannot just depend on pay-as-you-save schemes. Obviously, Warm Front will be subject to the comprehensive spending review this autumn, as all other Government programmes will be.
I thank the Minister for that further clarification, but his comments support my feeling that there is no clear understanding of what will happen to Warm Front after the current period of investment in that programme expires. Similarly—this relates particularly to my points about the need to include microgeneration in the aim of improving general household energy efficiency over the medium to long term—there seems to have been no clarification regarding the future of the renewable heat incentive. If, for whatever reason, the renewable heat incentive is abandoned—a process that I suspect is under way at the moment—the ability of homes to install equipment vital for long-term energy efficiency, such as solar thermal devices, or ground source or air source heat pumps, will be severely undermined.
The Minister has said that households that enter a deal, whether it is loan-based or part of a pay-as-you-save arrangement, will have to pay the money back when the investment period comes to an end. The RHI is therefore absolutely essential, and I fear for the sector’s future if it is abandoned or undermined.
I thank the Minister for that intervention, and for promoting me to the Privy Council. I look forward to that announcement, and I sincerely hope that my concerns about the RHI are misplaced. It is essential that the initiative goes ahead next year, so that it can underpin the revolution that is taking place in the development of microgenerated heat.
The Minister also said that it will cost something like £10,000, at the very least, to treat each hard-to-treat property. Inevitably, therefore, such properties, whatever they are like, will be outside the green new deal. It is essential that programmes are brought in alongside the green deal at an early stage, to ensure that the 6 to 7 million homes in the hard-to-treat category get the energy-efficiency uprating that they need.
The other point that I want to emphasise is that energy efficiency is not just about conserving the energy that we use in domestic properties. We have heard already this afternoon about the great gains that can be made by increasing energy efficiency in commercial and industrial properties, but we also have to look at the enormously inefficient way that we produce our energy at the moment. By the time that a single kilowatt comes out of a conventional electricity power station, 55% cent. of the energy in the fuel used to produce it has been lost. A further 15% of the energy in the original source is lost in transmission, and a further 10% is lost through the inefficiency of household equipment. In a very real sense, therefore, the so-called “10% light bulb” is real, and that is because, by the time we switch a light on, we have squandered 90% of the energy that we could have used to power the bulb.
For that reason, arrangements such as district heating and combined heat and power are absolutely vital if we are to make progress in using energy in the best way that we can. There is a huge capacity for CHP district heating schemes in UK cities. For example, Aberdeen Heat & Power Ltd has shown how that can be done, and similar results can be seen in Southampton and Birmingham. We need to take the role of CHP very seriously, either at the micro level—my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) spoke about that earlier in connection with home energy improvements—or through district heating schemes. Finally, industrial companies that have their own heat networks can have their existing boilers replaced with CHP plants. Such commercial schemes can result in enormous gains in energy efficiency. Local authorities were given powers and resources to develop district heating schemes in the paper on home heating and energy supplies put forward by the previous Government. It would be encouraging if the powers envisaged under that programme were preserved and enhanced by this new Government.
We should not neglect the role that energy efficiency plays in combating fuel poverty. If all homes had a standard assessment procedure rating of, say, above 65, it is unlikely that much fuel poverty would exist in this country, simply because it would be difficult for households to spend more than 10% of their income on fuel. It is predicted that the target of eradicating fuel poverty under the terms of the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 will be missed by a large margin, and the main reason for that is that as fuel prices rise, more people are placed in fuel poverty. As we have already discussed this afternoon, enormous rises in fuel costs have blown off course some very creditable efforts to combat fuel poverty, not least efforts that target the homes of the fuel-poor to make them more energy-efficient.
For every 1% rise in fuel prices, 40,000 people are placed in fuel poverty, so we need to be aware of the obligations being placed on energy companies and the effect that they have on additional prices. If, as a result of the green deal and other new arrangements, we place additional obligations on energy companies and they pass on the effects of those obligations to their customers, we will find not only price rises but many more people going into fuel poverty as those new schemes unfold. There are already obligations on energy companies relating to carbon capture and storage, the carbon emissions reduction target, the community energy saving programme, and the smart meter roll-out. I imagine that the acceleration of that roll-out, which was recently announced by the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), will place additional obligations on companies, as they will have to underwrite that roll-out.
Either those additional obligations should be underwritten with public money to limit their effect on fuel prices, or energy companies need to be prevented from passing on the effect of the obligation to the customer. In that context, we need to look at the role of Ofgem. Should it be translated into a champion of escape from fuel poverty and an agent of a rapid rise in energy efficiency, or should it simply pass on the price of those changes to customers? That is worth examination.
I applaud the idea that we need to move rapidly on energy efficiency. If the green deal is as good as its proponents suggest, I will applaud it taking forward from the previous Government ways to build energy efficiency into how households work. However, we need to look at the detail very carefully to ensure that, this time, we get it absolutely right, because we have only a very short time in which to do so.
“Vote blue, go green” was one of our lasting slogans from the general election, so I welcome the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), to his Front-Bench position. I am pleased that we are having a debate on energy efficiency so early in the calendar, as the subject is so important in this day and age.
Before I go any further, I congratulate my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Lorraine Fullbrook), on their astounding maiden speeches. My hon. Friend, and close friend, the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), spoke passionately about the beauty of Dorset. As we in Bournemouth are sort of part of Dorset, although we have a unitary authority, I fully concur with him on that, and I wish him well in hosting the Olympics events that are to be held in that neck of the woods. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt), who spoke passionately about her constituency. She represents the Liberal Democrats, and ousted our good friend David Heathcoat-Amory. It is sad to see him go, but I must welcome her, because we are now all friends in this coalition.
As we are the custodians of the environment, such debates are important. We would like to think that the speeches that we make here will stand the test of time, but in fact, although it is horrible to think it, they may be forgotten in the long term. What will not be forgotten are the actions that we take to protect the environment for future generations. That is why I am pleased to participate in the debate.
When we look at what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico, we can see how fragile our environment is. If we do not take care of it we ruin it, not only for our own generation but for future generations, and they will not thank us.
The hon. Gentleman makes his point, but there is a distinction between the regulations that are expected to be adhered to during drilling in deep sea conditions using state of the art technology, and the bureaucracy and red tape that has stifled British business and which is quite separate from the safety regulations out at sea.
I had the pleasure of growing up in a number of countries, but mostly in Vienna, in Austria. It was interesting that in the 1980s measures such as insulation for new buildings, double glazing, and recycling using different wheelie bins were the norm there, yet it was only three years ago that such things were introduced in Bournemouth and the rest of the country, when our local authorities began to recognise the importance of recycling, energy saving and looking after our environment. As a nation, we are catching up with countries in Europe late in the day. That is why it is so critical for us to move forward on energy efficiency.
To me, the three principal elements of energy efficiency are how we supply and store energy, how efficiently we use that energy, and the lifestyle choices that we make by shifting away from energy-dependent activities—for example, how we use energy for heating, transport and electricity. I welcome some of the initiatives proposed in the coalition document, such as the establishment of a smart grid and the roll-out of smart meters.
It seems wrong that as we have looked to provide more efficient ways of charging for electricity, the people who have been punished most are the very poor, because of the charging systems and the meter systems, which have taken so long to provide them with the same benefits and deals that were available online to those of us who were able to use credit cards and standing orders.
I welcome the establishment of feed-in tariff systems for electricity. It makes sense that those who generate their own electricity can pump back any surplus electricity into the national grid and be paid for it. The creation of a green investment bank and home energy improvements paid for with the savings from lower energy bills provide an incentive to change attitudes and lifestyles.
I also welcome measures to encourage marine energy. I recently visited Felixstowe and saw some of the initiatives taken there and in other parts of Britain. It is sad that with one of the longest shorelines in the world, we have still failed to harness marine capability. We are starting to do that, placing wind turbines at sea. As a note specifically to Bournemouth, I visited Blackpool not long ago—
After I have made the point. I visited Blackpool recently and saw the wind turbines out at sea. I asked whether there was any anger or concern about them as the planning applications were going through. Yes of course there were, at that point. But was anybody complaining about them now? Not at all. The message that I would give to the people in and around Bournemouth and Dorset is: please accept the proposals for our area. The turbines will not disturb the view as much as people think. If they are concerned about that, they should pop up to Blackpool and see what is going on there. The turbines can hardly be seen in the distance.
The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) is bobbing up and down in his seat. I cannot but give way to him.
That is all the more reason to make passionate speeches to ensure that everyone in Britain understands and grasps the importance of harnessing this free energy.
I was saddened to see the outcome of the Amsterdam talks on climate change. I hoped that with the election of President Obama, the United States would show more involved leadership in this area. I certainly hope that in November in Cancun we will see a more convincing legal binding agreement, which will encourage countries to take climate change more seriously.
The issue of supply and storage came up when we debated carbon capture and storage during our consideration of the Energy Act 2010, on which the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) was the lead Minister. I was concerned last winter, as many in Britain were, at how close the lights came to going out. We must never again reach the position where we could run out of energy in a matter of days.
I knew that that would provoke a response from the hon. Lady. We had about six days’ supply left, and if the supply chain had failed, lights would have gone out. Instructions had gone out to businesses to alert them to the fact that their contract meant that their energy supply would be cut.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has had to provoke me. The fact is that the companies that were given the notices had entered into interruptible contracts, for which the price is lower because they are asked at times to lower their consumption of electricity. That is a reasonable thing to do. They chose to have the contracts. No one forced those contracts on them, and at no time were we in danger of the lights going out.
I am having flashbacks here. I recall the hon. Lady making the same point during the debate. The point is that I never want to be in that position again, and to see contracts being threatened in this way. She may argue that those were the contracts that had been signed, but we as a nation do not want to be in a position whereby any business is threatened in that way.
The more immediate problem has been the fact that we are now a net importer of oil, gas and coal. The Government spent 13 years watching the dials on all those sources go down towards empty.
Then we have to ask whether we are a charity to keep the unions going, or are we—[Interruption.] Opposition Members chortle; no doubt they are all signed-up members of some union that makes sure that they look after their comrades. The point is that the coal mines were inefficient. We could not keep them open. Today’s debate is about energy efficiency—having efficient means of getting energy. Using those coal mines when they were running out was inefficient, which is why they were closed. My point today is that one third of our coal is imported from Russia, of all places. That is not a secure place to import from, and it is certainly not clean coal.
My hon. Friend makes the point that sources of energy change. Some sources become exhausted, be they coal, or oil and gas from the North sea. Does he share my concern that the previous Government waited far too long to consider serious investment and planning for new forms of power generation, and that we should have made preparations for those a decade ago?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Labour party is now in denial on this front. I will probably provoke another reaction, but to return to the coal point—yes, the coal mines were inefficient, but there are now more efficient ways of extracting coal, so some coal mines are being reopened because it is now economically viable to produce the coal.
Would the hon. Gentleman care to comment on the fact that while his predecessors were smashing the mining industry, the National Union of Mineworkers pointed out that we had more than 300 years of coal reserves under the ground, and were arguing for the very clean-coal technology that the hon. Gentleman now seems to be espousing?
Those mining strikes, which almost brought Britain to a halt, took place when I was in shorts at school, so I cannot be blamed for that. I agree that we want clean efficient methods, and that is why we did not vote against the Bill on clean coal technology. It fell short, because the provisions on carbon capture and storage should have included gas, but that was ignored.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he not accept that gas and coal are imported because the market says that that is cheaper? Unless he is prepared to accept that there are times when we have to intervene in the market to stabilise things and give industry and energy sources in this country a chance, he will never alter the situation, particularly in the short term.
I do not disagree. My point is about the efficiency and security of supply, and not until very late in Labour’s tenure did they work out, “My gosh, we need to get some interconnectors here that actually work, so that we aren’t reliant on just one.” That is what led to the danger of our running out of gas supplies. I understand that the Government are now looking at security of supply, and at long-term contracts that will negate the problems that we faced last winter, when we came very close to some of the lights being switched off. Carbon capture and storage is important, and I am still upset that we did not have a chance to amend that Bill. We tabled amendments to include gas as well as coal.
The previous Government oversaw the demise of another area, our fleet of nuclear power stations—again, until our energy supply was threatened. It took 20 years to get a spark out of Dungeness; we cannot build those things overnight. Therefore, if we are to plan for the future, we cannot live in denial: we cannot live without nuclear power. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) spoke passionately about the importance of nuclear power, and although it is an asset that none of us likes, we are forced into that position simply because of the absence of other sources of power.
The hon. Gentleman makes a statement in favour of nuclear power, but it is not based on the facts. Climate change scientists tell us that we need to get our emissions down within the next 10 years if we are to have any chance of avoiding the worst of climate change. The hon. Gentleman just mentioned the time that it takes to get nuclear generation up and running, and that means that we are now outside the critical investment time frame, and there is a real danger that if we put the money into nuclear power we will not put it into energy efficiency, renewable energies or decentralised energy, all of which have a much better chance than nuclear power has of reducing our emissions.
I actually agree with the hon. Lady, whom I very much welcome to the Chamber. She will add an awful lot to these, and indeed other, debates. The Labour Government left nuclear power very late, but what she said does not mean that we should not build nuclear power stations. I guess that she is not in favour of nuclear power, and I am reluctant, too, but she might agree that we should invest in and study nuclear fusion, rather than nuclear fission, because nuclear fusion is the utopia that we have been looking for. Everyone says, “Oh, it will happen 25 years from now,” but they were saying that 25 years ago. If we fully grasped that technology, we would not need the nasty side of nuclear fission, which leaves all the radioactive mess for future generations. Nuclear fusion is very much the way forward.
Where do we go with that? Do we continue going back in time and blaming previous Governments? In the first debate on the Budget a week ago, I heard Members say that Maggie Thatcher was responsible for everything. How many generations do we want to go back? We are where are today, and I am concerned that when it comes to looking after our energy needs, we have had 10 years almost in abeyance, so I seek guidance from the Government to ensure that we will never be in this position again.
In his earlier remarks about nuclear power, my hon. Friend was kind enough to mention Dungeness power station, which is in my constituency. On the points made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), I should say that the site could be brought online quickly—before 2020, it is believed. The current power station was opened under the last Conservative Government. Does my hon. Friend agree that such is the urgency and national priority that one of the great considerations for new nuclear power should be the location of sites in strategic areas of energy need and the speed with which they can be developed?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful argument. The people best educated about these issues are those with nuclear power stations in their constituencies. They already understand what is going on; they realise the benefits and what safety mechanisms are in place, and would embrace further such technology.
Other forms of technology can be built much faster—they are almost “off the shelf”. The Canadians are using the CANDU systems, which are very simple and probably have the safest record in the world. They would be easy to build. The trouble in the UK is the planning process, which takes so long before the first bolt can be put in or concrete floor laid down. I am glad that one point of the coalition agreement has been to expedite the planning process to make sure that, yes, we take on board consultation and views, but that once the decision is made, we get on with it.
I cannot resist either. I have two points to make. First, Dungeness is built on a floodplain; it is a bit short-sighted to put lots of nuclear power in the middle of a floodplain, given climate change.
Secondly, if we are still to hold out this great hope that some new nuclear technology will come along, that, again, will mean that resources and research will go into that instead of into the tried and tested technologies that we know will work. We have been talking about energy efficiency. If we rolled out a free programme of energy efficiency to every household in the country, that would create hundreds of thousands of jobs and get us out of recession. It would also get our emissions down much more quickly and cheaply than going down the nuclear route.
The hon. Lady is new to the House and I do not wish to be disparaging about what she has just said. But she seems to be saying that the issue is either/or, black or white. I am saying that it is not like that, and that we must invest extra research on an international basis. Work is being done, including in the United States, but it is not enough.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that we must push for more efficiencies—in fact, that is what half today’s debate is about. How can the home be made more efficient? How can we reduce our emissions and the amount of energy that we use? All those things are important. Is she suggesting that we should park any further advances or research on the idea of nuclear fusion? That is absolutely wrong.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; I appreciate that he is trying to make progress.
I am saying, very realistically, that there is a finite pot of money, which is even smaller as a result of the cuts that the hon. Gentleman’s Government are about to make. The idea that that money can be put everywhere at the same time comes from cloud cuckoo land. We need to decide where the money can be best and most effectively spent; scattering it around the place is not the answer. If we were to implement a major programme of energy efficiency, including renewable and decentralised energy, that would be tried and tested and offer a much better bang for the buck than investing in the chance that we might some day come across a nuclear technology that is safer than what we have now.
On that I stop agreeing with the hon. Lady. We are not talking about a technology that may or may not work. We know that it can work; it is a matter of harnessing it. Experiments have already been done. To park the issue, or put it on the back burner—that is probably the wrong phrase—would be wrong. If we can harness the technology we can roll it out, not only in Britain but in other countries, particularly developing countries that are thinking of using nuclear fission. We could say to Iran, “Here is nuclear fusion.” An atomic bomb cannot be made out of a nuclear fusion reactor. This therefore makes sense in the long term, and generations will thank us for it. Given the position we are in, I am afraid that we cannot survive over the next 20 years without investing, reluctantly though it will be, in nuclear power. I think that there is agreement on that in all parts of the House.
Let me spend a few moments explaining why nuclear fusion is so important and useful. It is the fusion of hydrogen atoms to form helium, and an awful lot of energy. It is a safe process whereby there are no nasty by-products. Of course, hydrogen is found in water, so fusion power is a potentially limitless source of energy. In fact, it is recognised that in 100 years’ time nuclear fission will be in the past, and everything will be powered by nuclear fusion. That may sound scatty, too advanced or too romantic, but it is the case. However, I am afraid that we will slow down that harnessing of power unless we are able to ensure that we join with other countries to guarantee that money is not wasted or taken away to be spent on other important related products, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) passionately said.
The main focus of my speech is not nuclear fusion or carbon capture and storage, but the subject of my intervention at the beginning of the debate. It is about a very simple way of reducing carbon emissions, saving the Government money, and creating a feel-good factor—that is, moving our clocks one hour forward.
If the hon. Gentleman could hold on for a second and let me make a bit of progress, I will be delighted to give way. I have not even begun the argument yet—I have only announced the subject matter—and he is already having a pop.
Let me take hon. Members back to last March and how people felt on the day before the clocks changed and on the day after. There is a natural feel-good factor for people when that lighter evening comes in, but it goes beyond that: there is also a financial benefit and an effect on the environment. Electricity prices would go down because we would be naturally aligning the time spent at our workplace during the day with the time when the sun, the last form of free energy, is in the sky. There is a natural recognition of how we could better use that time. When the sun is in the sky and we are all in bed, that is wasted energy.
Before I make further progress, I will give way to the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty), as I promised.
Let me gently point out to the hon. Gentleman that slightly north of Bournemouth there is great opposition to the idea of changing the clock. In Scotland and elsewhere, there are serious and genuine safety concerns about what that would mean. His own colleagues in Government have made it absolutely clear that they will not support that proposal for that very reason.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s final point, as I spent much of last year doing a study on this very subject. The point he raises about the far north of England and Scotland is relevant, however, and I will come to it in due course, when, no doubt, he will want to jump up and have another go.
According to Cambridge university, this change to our clocks would mean that electricity prices for the whole of the United Kingdom would reduce by about 5%. Moreover, the UK’s carbon footprint would be reduced by about 500,000 tonnes of CO2. People should wake up and see that that figure is relevant. That was not even a consideration in the 1970s, when, as hon. Members might recall, there was a three-year pilot project to test this idea; some people enjoyed it, and others did not. It turned out that the voices who spoke most strongly against it were those of the farmers—and rightly, because the business that they operated meant that they had to make best use of the daylight, and it conflicted with their routine. However, the National Farmers Union, and indeed NFU Scotland, no longer object to the idea. When NFU Scotland is asked if it is the first thing it wants, of course it says no—it is not on its agenda at all—but it has withdrawn its objections to it, and that makes sense, because farming is now a 24-hour industry.
The experiment was very positive, and it saw a reduction in fatalities and injuries across the UK. You might be interested to learn, Mr Deputy Speaker, however, that the reason why the experiment was flipped back was that farmers told all the Conservative MPs who were in power at the time that they would be denied the poster sites that are so important during a general election were it to continue. That was why they said, “Okay, fine, we will get rid of this”. However, reading the Hansard makes it clear that the argument for dropping it was weak.
I have mentioned the reduction in the UK’s carbon footprint, but there would also be an important boost to British tourism, an industry that Parliament almost neglects. It is our fifth-biggest industry and brings in more than £90 billion a year. According to the Tourism Alliance, daylight saving would boost the industry by about £2 billion, which is worth considering. We are the sixth most visited place in the world, and if we can find other means to encourage people to come here and take advantage of British tourist attractions, particularly those outdoors, it is worth looking into.
Safer roads, which I believe have been mentioned, are another aspect of daylight saving. As I have said, when the experiment last took place there was a reduction in deaths. I agree that more deaths took place in the morning, but the net change was a decrease. That was because in the morning, people tend to make a journey from A to B, with A being their home and B being somewhere they know, such as work or school. In the evenings they tend to make a journey from A to C, with C being somewhere they have not been before. That means that they are not so familiar with the roads, which leads to accidents. Shifting the time so that it is lighter in the evenings rather than the mornings reduces the number of accidents that take place.
I will take your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker, and focus on how daylight saving is very energy-efficient. I will not cover the reduction in crime or the increase in international trade that it would bring, although they are important, or health and well-being, although they are also worth considering.
It is worth my mentioning Scotland, though, and the possible efficiency savings there. With daylight saving, in the Glasgow-Edinburgh conurbation there would be 83 more daylight hours before 4 pm and 5 pm, 120 more between 4 pm and 6 pm and 165 more between 4 pm and 7 pm. The numbers would be larger for the rest of the UK. It is a very simple move that would not cost the Government a penny to implement, other than to put the necessary legislation through. It would align us with our European colleagues, which would mean that we would become more efficient from a business perspective as well, so I recommend it.
I understand that there is finally a private Member’s Bill on the matter, so I am the warm-up act for my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), who I understand will introduce Second Reading on—
I begin by congratulating all Members who have made their maiden speeches today. They have been fantastic, and after hearing some of them, including that of my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon), I suspect that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury could soon simply scrap all the tourist boards in this country, such is the eloquence of the case that hon. Members have made for their constituencies.
This has been a fantastic debate. There has been some good knockabout, but hon. Members have also made some serious points. I am slightly curious when I hear coalition Members talk about fuel poverty and the fact that they will square the circle by voting to freeze child benefit and cut housing benefit. We have not really teased out exactly how that will tackle fuel poverty.
I should like to put the subject of energy efficiency into the context of the wider energy debate. As part of my leisure reading I often have a glance at DUKES—the digest of UK energy statistics—a thoroughly interesting document that I get from the Department’s website. I had a glance at it this morning and it contains some interesting statistics about our consumption as a nation over the past 40 years—since 1970. We have seen a 60% increase in the amount of electricity we consume as a nation. However, manufacturing and industrial consumption has remained steady at some 14,000 GWh, and it has largely been domestic consumption that has driven up the figures, plus some transportation. One thing that brings a wry smile to my face is hon. Members talking of the need for more railways and electric cars. Those are admirable suggestions, and I support them, but it is never explained where we will get the energy to power those new electric trains and cars.
If we compare our consumption statistics with our supply statistics, the result is worrying. At its peak in 1998, the nuclear industry provided approximately 90,000 GWh. In 2008, the latest year for which figures are available, that had fallen to 48,000 GWh, although it has risen again slightly since then. At the same time, many of our coal-powered stations are coming to the end of their lives. By the end of the coming decade, all our Magnox nuclear power stations will have closed, as will almost all of the advanced gas-cooled reactor nuclear power stations and many of our coal-powered stations—either because of new European regulations on carbon emissions, which both sides of the House would support, or because they have simply come to the end of their lives. I suggest that we need to understand that, although the aim of being more efficient in our energy consumption is laudable, we face a massive energy gap that needs to be addressed. We have seen some consensus break out this afternoon on how we can achieve that.
I have a constituency interest in power generation, in Longannet power station—one of the two sites bidding for the Minister’s money under the carbon capture and storage scheme. I notice that his colleague, when asked about carbon capture, gave us some warm words about the coalition’s general support for it, but—I assume that it was an oversight on his part—did not give a guarantee that DECC will meet the previous Government’s target of a decision by October. I would be delighted if the Minister could give the House that guarantee when he winds up.
The hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt) is unfortunately no longer in her place, but she made an excellent maiden speech. I suggest to her that, if we are to have a surge in the volume of renewables, especially those that come from offshore and elsewhere, we cannot simply say that we do not want improvements to the national grid. I suggest that the Liberal Democrats are in their usual situation of saying one thing in the House and doing something else outside. I look forward to seeing how the hon. Lady squares that circle with her constituents.
The wider issue is how we close the gap between our desire for a low carbon British economy and our need for energy. I suggest that we will do that through three forms of generation. I accept the role of renewables, although I am on the record as being slightly more sceptical than some of my colleagues about the size and scale of that. For example, biomass, which was seen until recently as the great white hope of renewable energy, has now, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) knows, run into serious difficulties with how quickly it is gobbling up forestry in the UK. It is now suggested that several schemes in Scotland proposed by Forth Ports will have to import wood from around the world.
I would be delighted to expand on the question of imported biomass. It can play no sensible role in a model of energy efficiency; the transportation costs make it ludicrous to think we are being energy efficient in doing so. However, there are 4 million tonnes of biomass within not the forests but simply the under-managed broadleaf woodlands in England alone. That could be used to generate twice the amount of energy—
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who, it is fair to say, is an expert on this issue. He is entirely right that biomass has a role to play, but it must be UK-produced fuel, and he is right to give examples. Stevens Croft in Dumfriesshire has been doing an excellent job of taking cast-off from the timber industry. That is an excellent example. As I mentioned, however, we should not be importing fuel from Europe or further afield.
On the renewable obligations certificate in relation to biomass, the effect of the subsidy introduced by the previous Government is that a variety of companies are effectively being underwritten for the work they are doing. Consequently, the taxpayer is paying for energy companies to do biomass. That cannot be right. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree?