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Energy Efficiency

Volume 592: debated on Thursday 5 February 2015

We have extended our successful energy companies obligation to 2017 and reformed the green deal with changes such as the green deal home improvement fund. Together, ECO and the green deal have helped more than 1 million homes become more energy efficient. As I have said, I laid regulations before Parliament yesterday to require landlords to bring their properties up to a minimum level of energy efficiency by 1 April 2018. If the House agrees these new, tough rules for the private rented sector, we estimate that around 1 million tenants will benefit from warmer and cheaper-to-heat homes.

It was almost two years ago that the then Energy Minister, the right hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) said that he would be having sleepless nights if fewer than 10,000 people signed up for the green deal. Since then, 5,000 people have benefited from the measures—that is all. For how long is the Secretary of State seriously going to insult the intelligence of Members by saying that the green deal has been a success?

Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman is wrong with his statistics. More than 445,000 green deal assessments have taken place, and our evidence shows that over 70%—[Interruption]—over 70% of those people having assessments go on to install measures or intend to install measures. That is far more than the hon. Gentleman talks about. For the benefit of the House, let me clarify that the figures he used relate to people who have gone through the system and used green deal finance—only one part of the green deal. Green deal assessment is a key part: it has been working and it has played forward to enable us to meet our target for insulating 1 million homes four months ahead of schedule.

I ask the Secretary of State to revisit the figures. He is making great play of them, but 80% fewer people had energy efficiency schemes last year in comparison with 2011-12. Rather than just trade figures, is it not time that the Secretary of State really looked at putting energy efficiency at the heart of his energy investment infrastructure policy?

Let me reassure the hon. Lady that energy efficiency is at the heart of our policies. That is why we have managed to achieve our 1 million target early, and why I have put forward legislation for the private rented sector, which I hoped the hon. Lady would welcome. She might be interested to know that today John Alker, acting chief executive officer of the UK Green Building Council said:

“This could be the single most significant piece of legislation to affect our existing building stock in a generation”.

I am proud that this Government have introduced that.

What specific energy efficiency measures has the UK proposed should be included in the European INDC—intended nationally determined contributions—and how will the Secretary of State ensure that, unlike the domestic green deal, a rate of success is not promised in one year when less than half of it has been achieved in two?

I think the hon. Gentleman is muddling a few things. I talked to Commissioner Miguel Cañete, who showed me the draft of the EU’s INDC—and I am afraid that it is rather more high level than the hon. Gentleman suggests. The EU’s INDC will, I think, be published and go to the Energy Council or perhaps the Environment Council at the end of this month, and it will not go into that level of detail. The hon. Gentleman might want to take up his point with the commissioner.

Government data show that more than 16,000 households in the north-east of England have spent in total £1.6 million on green deal assessments, but that only 140 have benefited from energy efficiency measures costing £500,000—a net loss of £1.1 million for householders. Will the Minister just face the facts and admit that the green deal is simply not working?

I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s figures. Let me gently tell him that the figures he mentions relate to people who invested in the green deal following the original assessment, and people might not have used green deal finance as a way of financing their investment. All the evidence shows that many people are using their own finances and savings; for some, it is a remortgage, and others are borrowing in other ways. I would have thought that what the hon. Gentleman, I and the whole House would be interested in is improving the nation’s building stock—not whether people use a particular form of consumer credit.

Given that energy efficiency is an important weapon for combating climate change, and given that it also lowers the energy bills of householders —particularly those on low incomes—has not the Government’s institutional meddling with energy efficiency structures not only wasted a huge amount of taxpayers’ money but actually made people on lower incomes pay more? Is not the Secretary of State’s green deal nothing but a pack of cards that contains only jokers?

I enjoyed the first half of that question, but it deteriorated into inaccuracy rather rapidly. I am afraid that the facts are against the right hon. Gentleman. Green deal assessments have been carried out for more than 445,000 people, and figures show that more than 70% of those people have subsequently installed energy efficiency measures. Furthermore, as a result of the combination of the green deal and the energy companies obligation, more than 1 million homes had benefited from such measures by the end of November. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would welcome the huge success of a scheme that is permanently reducing the energy bills of so many people, and I might have hoped that he would welcome the fact that the private rented sector regulations that we are introducing today will help many tenants in his constituency.

Energy efficiency has done absolutely nothing for people who are in fuel poverty. Estonia is the only country in Europe with a higher proportion of its population in fuel poverty than Britain. I invite the Secretary of State—and I mean this helpfully—to come to my constituency, so that I can show him exactly what I am talking about. He obviously does not believe anything that he hears from Opposition Members, but if he comes to Glasgow, we can meet and I can show him.

I am always keen to listen to the hon. Gentleman. As he knows, I have read the report that he wrote on prepayment meters and their users, and am responding to it. However, his analysis of fuel poverty was wrong on at least two counts. First—as he will see when we publish our poverty strategy shortly—the energy companies obligation, along with other measures that we have taken, has already helped many fuel-poor households during the current Parliament, Those measures are a significant step forward. Secondly, the way in which we are reforming those measures is helping even more people.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that Estonia was the only EU country with a higher proportion of people in fuel poverty than Britain. I do not know whether he has looked at the way in which the EU and individual EU member states compile fuel poverty statistics, but I do not think that it enables him to reach that conclusion.

I, for one, congratulate the Secretary of State and welcome the new regulations, which will bring relief to many people living in poorly insulated rented accommodation in my area. However, may I press him to define the minimum level of energy efficiency more clearly?

I am delighted that the hon. Lady welcomes the new regulations, which will make a significant difference by requiring landlords to raise the energy performance certificate rating of their properties to a minimum of band E by 1 April 2018. We believe that that will help about 1 million tenants over the next three years.

Given that this is a particularly cold week, may I remind the Secretary of State of the people who live in park homes? Will he support the call by the park home owners justice campaign for a dedicated, fully funded insulation programme? Is it not time for action, rather than mere consultation?

My hon. Friend has been a doughty champion of park home owners. As she knows, we have been the first Government to engage with some of the challenging issues that they face. She will know, for example, that our reform of the warm home discount will make many park home owners eligible for it for the first time. That is action. As for the insulation programme that she mentioned, if she can wait until we publish our fuel poverty strategy, she will see that we are continuing to think about what can be done for park home owners.

The homes of millions of low-income households desperately need to be made highly energy efficient, so I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement today about the private rented sector, but will he ensure that the scale and value of grants available are up to that challenge in the next Parliament?

My hon. Friend is right to say that, in moving forward to take out the least energy efficient homes in the private rented sector and in other sectors, we need to ensure that there is a financial framework to support them. Landlords will be able to use either ECO, grants such as the green deal home improvement fund or green deal finance to assist them to meet the regulations.

May I pay tribute to the former Member of Parliament for Sheffield, Heeley, Frank Hooley, who has died at the age of 91 and who campaigned for what was then described as alternative energy?

In that vein, may I ask the Secretary of State what discussions he has had with Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills about the Government’s providing greater investment to support companies that are developing mechanisms to improve energy efficiency such as micro and combined heat and power?

I am sure all hon. Members will join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to the former Member who has died. I did not know him but I am sure he was a doughty campaigner for alternative energy.

The hon. Lady asks what my Department can do with BIS to assist in the deployment of technologies such as CHP. I assure her that I work closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on those issues, particularly to ensure that energy-intensive industries have support with the high costs that they face.

Earlier this week, the National Federation of Occupational Pensioners predicted that the death toll from this year’s winter cold weather could be 40,000 people, the highest for 15 years. With figures such as those, how can the Government defend not spending the majority of the funds that they raise for energy efficiency on tackling fuel poverty?

Fuel poverty increased significantly under the previous Government and it has fallen, albeit not as much as I would like, under this Government. When we publish the fuel poverty strategy shortly, the hon. Gentleman will see not only that we have managed in this Parliament to focus scarce resources on the problem, with significant success, but that we plan, through the private rented sector regulations and other measures, to bear down on fuel poverty even further and faster.

The Secretary of State is too complacent and I do not agree with his assessment at all. The fact is we have the means to tackle fuel poverty. What is lacking is the political will. His Government know that. Is it not a fact that the technical annexe to the Government’s own fuel poverty strategy admits not only that the Government will not eradicate fuel poverty by 2030 but that it will rise?

Since we have not published the final fuel poverty strategy it is interesting that the hon. Gentleman makes those points.

He is probably talking about the draft strategy. He needs to see the final one before he makes such points. The fuel poverty regulations that we have introduced are radical and have not received the attention they deserve. Under the regulations, by 2030 any person who is in fuel poverty must be in a house of at least EPC rating C. That is a major step forward and we have the policies, set out in the fuel poverty strategy, to deliver that.