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Independent Fuel Poverty Review

Volume 528: debated on Thursday 19 May 2011

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has asked Professor Hills of the London School of Economics to lead the independent fuel poverty review and to provide interim findings by this autumn and a final report by early 2012 at the latest.

I thank the Minister for that reply. I understand that the author of the report has been asked to demonstrate how fuel poverty can be removed entirely within 15 years. Many constituents of mine live in homes that are off mains gas and are hard to heat. Will the green deal have enough capacity to meet that target and eliminate this scourge of rural areas?

Absolutely. The rural fuel-poor, who for many years have been overlooked by fuel poverty policies, and who suffer particularly from high heating-oil prices and from hard-to-heat homes, will particularly benefit from the green deal and from the renewable heat incentive. Under the coalition, it is a double win for the rural fuel-poor.

As the promoter of the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, my hon. Friend will understand my disappointment that fuel poverty has not been eliminated. Will he take the opportunity, through the Committee and Report stage of the Energy Bill and through the green deal, to ensure that a clear delivery plan is enshrined in legislation to eliminate fuel poverty?

That piece of landmark legislation, which my hon. Friend got on to the statute book having had long experience in these matters, will be an important part of our strategy for delivering a green deal programme that will bear down on and eventually eliminate fuel poverty. I can assure him that unlike the Labour Government, who allowed the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 to languish on the statute book and be frittered away, we will ensure that the legislation is used effectively and that there is far greater co-ordination and collaboration between local government and us at the centre.

When the Warm Front scheme is closed down, it will be the first time in 30 years that there has not been a Treasury-funded scheme to tackle fuel poverty, which is a major problem in constituencies such as mine. Will the Minister do all he can to persuade the Treasury to take its fair share of the cost of cutting poverty so that the full funding burden is not regressively applied to energy bills, thus hitting the poorest hardest?

Sadly, we know that in the past Warm Front has not been effective. Let us face it, more than 90 Members from all sides of the House, including Labour Front Benchers, have written to me to complain about it. Were we to carry on relying on Warm Front alone, it would take more than 80 years to treat homes which, under the green deal, we expect to treat by 2030. I have to say to the hon. Lady that there is funding next year, the year after and the year after that for Warm Front, but the real driver for eliminating fuel poverty will be the green deal and the ECO that underpins it.

What action does the Minister propose to take to ensure that the energy company obligation does not put more people into fuel poverty, as a result of the effect that the imposition of the levy will have on their bills, than it takes out? Will he consider rising block tariffs as a method of imposing levies, rather than an imposition on standing charges, which would have a particular effect on those in fuel poverty?

The hon. Gentleman speaks with great authority on this subject and is recognised as an expert, but we have considered block tariffs and do not believe that they are effective. The warm home discount is available, however, which will be worth more than £1 billion to the fuel-poor over the spending period. We expect it to help up to 2 million households a year. His point about levies is well made, and we have paid particular attention to that issue. That is why, unlike under the Labour proposals, the RHI will be funded out of general taxation, which we believe will be more progressive.