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Energy Efficiency

Volume 571: debated on Thursday 28 November 2013

Since 2010, more than 4.8 million insulation measures have been installed through Government schemes. For the average home, installing such measures can typically save between £25 and £270 on an annual energy bill.

This week, we have heard that excess winter deaths are up 29% on last year, with up to 31,000 excess winter deaths. That should be a national scandal. Why, in that context, have the Government abolished the duty to eliminate fuel poverty, why will he not agree to amend the Energy Bill to include mandatory minimum energy efficiency standards for the homes of low-income households, and will they reverse their opposition to a binding EU 2030 energy efficiency target?

I share the hon. Lady’s concerns about the winter deaths, but one has to say, being very objective about it, that there was a clear link between influenza and those deaths in the last period looked at.

We cannot be complacent about the impact of cold homes. That is why we have a national energy efficiency strategy—we are the first Government ever to have such a strategy—and why we have an ambitious public and market-based programme to roll out energy efficiency across the housing stock.

If we really want to target help with energy bills on those who need it most, why do we not insist through building standards that all new build social housing has solar panels on the roof?

I am not unsympathetic to that idea, but the responsibility for building standards rests with the Department for Communities and Local Government. We have zero-carbon homes, but the key challenge for this country is the existing housing stock in which the vast majority of people live now and in which they will live for decades to come. The real challenge for us is not to build relatively few great homes but to retrofit the entire housing stock, to the benefit of everyone.

Following that answer and speculation in the press today, does the Minister accept that cutting the energy company obligation by extending the deadline for companies to meet it would punish the companies that have so far sought to meet the obligation, cause serious job losses in the insulation industry and, most important, leave vulnerable people who have been promised that they will have that work done sitting in the cold this Christmas?

I cannot prejudge any announcement that will be coming shortly, but it is clear to all of us that Labour stands for what is effectively a green poll tax. It is right behind regressive levies on bills; it has no interest in driving value for money. The coalition is standing up not just for green values but for green value for money. Unlike the shadow Secretary of State, we recognise that £112 on bills matters to hard-working families, and if we can get better value from green measures we will extract it. Only the coalition will ensure that we get good value as well as meeting our green targets.

Order. The Minister is a little confused. I will try to rescue him. We have been advised of the desire of the Government to link questions 5, 6, 12, 13 and 14, and I am sure that that is what the right hon. Gentleman really has in mind. I should say for the benefit of the House that the reason why we cannot group questions 18, 20 and 21 is that they do not exist.

Driving household energy efficiency take-up to help consumers control their energy bills is at the heart of our approach, and with policies such as the green deal we have established the conditions to grow energy efficiency markets in Great Britain. Thousands of innovative businesses are investing in this new market, and more than 100,000 consumers have begun the green deal improvement journey to make their homes more efficient.

As the promoter of the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, may I ask my right hon. Friend to join me in commending National Energy Action for its efforts to encourage people to be energy efficient and help to eliminate fuel poverty?

I certainly commend the NEA. I was delighted to attend its annual reception on Tuesday. I also commend my hon. Friend, whose record on fighting fuel poverty is second to none in the House. He has long been a champion of the fuel poor. We continue to work hand in hand with the NEA, developing the energy saving network. The Department has provided £900,000 to fund the creation of the network and the NEA is developing and delivering training to 500 energy advisers, and that is in addition to the community action awards on which we are also working with the NEA.

Earlier in the year the Minister said that he would have sleepless nights if his target of 10,000 people signing up to the green deal before the end of the year was not met. We are almost at the end of the year; is he preparing for a period of prolonged insomnia?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; I did anticipate around 10,000. The number of people taking up finance so far has been significantly lower—about 1,200 as of last month. However, the extraordinary thing is that over 100,000 homes have had green deal assessments, and the compelling response has been that over 80% of the people who have had a green deal assessment are installing measures. If consumers like the green deal and the products and if they are installing the measures, the fact that they are not yet using the finance does not worry me. I am delighted that over 100,000 green deal measures are being installed in people’s homes. It is fantastic news.

Joyner PA in my constituency has been providing wall insulation to people in Islwyn for over 30 years, making homes energy-efficient. When I visited the company last Friday, I was told that applying for Government green schemes is slow and bureaucratic. What are the Government doing to address that?

I am not sure which particular schemes the hon. Gentleman is referring to, but if he would like to write to me, I would be happy to address his queries or concerns in detail. I take on board what he says about bureaucracy. That is why we have got rid of the community energy saving programme, which we inherited from the previous Government and which was incredibly bureaucratic. That is why we are looking to make the energy company obligation and the green deal less bureaucratic and as easy to understand for the consumer as possible. We will continue to iterate both schemes to make them as consumer-friendly as possible.

May I draw the Minister’s attention to a Lords amendment to the Energy Bill, which we will consider next Wednesday, regarding measures to tackle fuel poverty and using the energy efficiency certificates as a means of targeting help at the poorest households? Will he give some consideration to accepting that, or a form of it, as a way of targeting help at the poorest?

The Energy Bill is on course for Royal Assent and it is very important that it does not get held up. It has been considered in both Houses. It is absolutely imperative for unlocking investment that we proceed with passing the Bill as a matter of urgency, so we remain committed to that. I am always looking for new ideas on energy efficiency, but I think that we have in place the most robust framework and the most ambitious strategy that any Government have had, but we continue to look to improve that.

Despite the Minister having slight problems with the question numbers, we know that he is exceptionally numerate, so can he tell the House how many households have actually had work done, according to his Department, under the green deal?

There were 1,173 plans in the system, as of October, and 594 are having measures installed and 219 at the end of October—[Interruption.]

Opposition Members might have had a bit too much Red Bull this morning.

The figure was 219 at the end of October, but that is the number of measures installed using finance. The really exciting thing is that tens of thousands of green deal measures have been installed, with people using the cash-back or their own money. So compelling is the green deal that people want all the savings now. If people want to take all the savings now by recognising that green deal measures are a great investment, that is a good thing. We will continue to improve the finance offer, but the green deal is up and running and it is a long-term programme.

Earlier this month I was fortunate to hear a presentation to the Transcoco—Transition Community Corsham—group in Corsham by an early adopter of the green deal. Although he was satisfied with the payback period on his green deal loan, what was striking from his presentation was that the assessment revealed some pretty fundamental flaws in his home’s energy insulation, despite the fact that it was built less than 10 years ago. Will the Minister speak with colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government about the enforcement of the existing building standards on new housing developments, because the failure to do that is costing ordinary people a lot in their bills?

The hon. Gentleman is right. For 13 years, under the previous Government, there was lamentable enforcement of building standards. In fact, none of us can think of a single case that was prosecuted. He makes a very valid point. I will talk with my right hon. and hon. Friends in DCLG to see what more we can do to ensure that standards are adhered to.