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Household Energy Efficiency

Volume 597: debated on Thursday 25 June 2015

I am determined to help keep homes warmer for less, save carbon and meet our important fuel poverty targets. We need a long-term, coherent and affordable policy framework that ensures that Government support is targeted at those who need it most. My Department is already working closely with consumer groups and industry alike to test and develop ideas based on evidence of what works, and I look forward to setting out our approach in the autumn.

More than 2 million households are in fuel poverty, including 4,259 in my constituency of Oldham East and Saddleworth. Energy efficiency is key to tackling fuel poverty, but with an 80% reduction in such measures in this Parliament, is the Secretary of State serious about doing that or is she just going to redefine what it is?

The hon. Lady will be aware that the previous Government redefined fuel poverty to the satisfaction of most groups, who agreed that we had proposed a better definition. She should be under no illusion: addressing fuel poverty will remain a priority of this Government. She is probably aware that the energy company obligation, or ECO, measures installed by the energy companies have been the most efficient way of delivering energy efficiency. In her constituency, 6,323 measures were installed to nearly 5,000 individual households and £700,000 was invested through the green deal communities fund. I hope that she saw some significant improvements under the previous Government and we will continue on that route.

In the coming years, there is a huge amount of proposed infrastructure investment in west Cumbria as well as a new academy school to be built in my constituency. We also have the new National College for Nuclear. What financial incentives and support will the Government provide to developers so that energy efficiency is central when we build these large projects?

The hon. Lady is right to focus on the need for energy efficiency in large buildings. I am delighted to hear about the infrastructure investment in her constituency. The National College for Nuclear will help the UK seize opportunities for economic growth in the nuclear industry and provide skills and jobs. I remind her that the DECC-funded Salix loan scheme provides public sector organisations with interest-free loans to make a range of energy efficiency improvements in their existing estates. The scheme has already supported more than 1,000 public bodies, so she might find it helpful.

Some 4,000 households in my constituency —that is one in 10—are in fuel poverty. The energy company obligation, which suffered severe cuts in the last Parliament, is due to end in 2017. How will the Government meet their responsibilities to people in fuel poverty once the ECO has ended?

The right hon. Lady is right that the ECO continues until 2017. Under the last Government, 2,000 measures were installed in her constituency, and the ECO remains a successful way of accessing homes in fuel poverty. Of course, we also have our fuel poverty commitments to ensure that, through five-year measuring plans, we deliver a C band for homes by 2030, with bands E and D on the way to getting there. There are many different ways of delivering efficiencies in homes to reduce fuel poverty, and the best thing we can do at the moment is take advice from industry and work with voluntary groups to work out what they think is the best way do that. We will come back to the House with the results of that.

I welcome the Secretary of State and the Minister of State to their new positions. They have made a good start, although “putting your foot down on the accelerator”—a phrase they have used repeatedly—is perhaps not the most energy efficient approach. Does my right hon. Friend share my astonishment at the ruling by the European Court of Justice earlier this month that effectively directs the UK to charge full-rate VAT on the supply and installation of energy-saving materials? Will she robustly, and jointly with the Treasury, challenge that ruling and impress on our European partners that if they are serious about energy efficiency, that is exactly the wrong way to go about it?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The ruling is unwelcome and we are considering the full implications. No one who has already pre-ordered or prepaid will be affected by the changes required as a result of the ECJ ruling, but we remain committed to tackling fuel poverty, and we will look at it very carefully.

Energy efficiency measures are the only way to prevent fuel poverty, and the levels of fuel poverty in the UK are a national disgrace. The Conservative manifesto promised that just 1 million homes would be insulated in this Parliament—a reduction of more than 80% from what was done in the last Parliament. At that rate, it will take more than 100 years to eliminate fuel poverty. That would be financially and morally wrong. What is the Secretary of State going to do to put that right?

It is disappointing that the hon. Gentleman fails to recognise the good progress we made in the last Parliament, both with the ECO and various grant groups that went out and reached people in fuel poverty. I was particularly pleased with the green deal communities programme, which went street by street to reach people in fuel poverty and was able to build community confidence in the programme—not everybody wants strangers coming to their door. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are engaging with industry and voluntary groups to make sure that the new proposals from this Government tackle fuel poverty in the most efficient way. We are also working with the Department for Work and Pensions to use, where possible, the data that it holds to target measures more efficiently.

Nobody could accuse the right hon. Lady of excluding from her answers any matter that she judges in any circumstance might be thought material.