My Lords, I beg to leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what are the objectives underlying their present policy of energy conservation.
My Lords, the objectives of the Government's energy conservation policy are to encourage increased efficiency in energy use; to help all consumers to get better value for money from the energy they consume; and, in particular, to increase industrial and commercial competitiveness.
My Lords, may I thank the noble Earl for that Answer. Is he satisfied that sufficient resources have backed this campaign? In particular will he say whether, in order to encourage consumers of both the domestic and industrial market, some incentives of a financial nature will be offered?
My Lords, indeed, we are convinced. We have an energy efficiency unit, which is well supported financially; and we are looking at various ways in which to help both the industrial and domestic consumer. In particular, we have a home insulation scheme, community insulation projects, home energy audits, energy efficiency survey schemes, and the energy conservation demonstration projects.
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that we, on this side of the House, very much welcome the establishment of the energy efficiency unit in his department, and generally support the objectives set for that unit? Would the noble Earl agree that money spent on energy conservation not only saves precious fuel reserves, but is also highly cost-effective, and has great employment potential—particularly for the unskilled and semiskilled? For those reasons, would he agree that the cuts recently made in insulation grants last autumn were, to say the least, unfortunate?Finally, would the noble Earl the Minister say whether the new unit will be able to ensure that investment in both energy supply and conservation will be determined by similar criteria as investment funds directed to conservation projects, where these show a superior return on capital employed if the investment were made in energy supply?
My Lords, I certainly would not cavil with anything that the noble Lord said at the beginning of his supplementary question—indeed, I agree with all of it. The noble Lord referred to the home insulation scheme. I can give him the good news that we have extended that to take into account the topping up, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment hopes to table an order before Parliament some time in the spring. On the noble Lord's other supplementary question, I am sure that the action we will take will promote the efficient use of energy throughout the country.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the sun, the wind and the tides are waiting to be used for the benefit of us all? Will he tell us what research and development is taking place in order to achieve that end?
My Lords, as regards the wind, we have recently researched a new windmill which has been opened on an island in the Orkneys. On tides, we are putting money into research being carried out into the Severn barrage. As regards the sun, it has not come out lately, so we have put it to bed!
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that if home insulation grants have been reduced in England, they have been cancelled in Wales until the end of the year? Is he aware that there is a great deal of concern in the Principality because of this? Can he give the House an assurance that these grants will be reintroduced in Wales as soon as possible?
My Lords, as I understand it, the Welsh local authorities were set for substantial overspend in 1983–84 capital allocations, notwith-standing a £50 million increase in cash limits. This would have jeopardised next year's allocation. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, will be pleased to hear that so far as the important thing is concerned, the Welsh home insulation scheme allocation for 1984–85 is nearly £4 million, which is almost twice this year's figure. Moreover, Welsh local authorities can incur commitments now for payment in 1984–85.
My Lords, would the noble Earl not agree, looking several years ahead, long after many of us will cease to be in operation, that it is a mistake to rely too much on coal development? In fact, we are wasting a great deal of coal for the purpose of producing energy which could be produced by the development of nuclear and other derivatives. Therefore, are the Government satisfied with the use made of coal at the present time? Would it not be better to use it for processing purposes, producing valuable other materials? Can the noble Earl say whether they are satisfied with the development of nuclear energy?
My Lords, the noble Lord asked some broad questions. The 20 per cent. nuclear generation which we shall have when the new AGRs come on stream next year is part of a policy from both sides of the House, and I believe this to be about correct. The noble Lord would not wish me of course to talk about Sizewell, where an inquiry is going on at the moment. So far as the coal industry is concerned, the Government have a coal-firing scheme in operation at present which is encouraging industry to conversion to coal, which we believe is the right way forward.
My Lords, referring to the Minister's reply to the original Question, might I ask him how he suggests that consumers are to get better value when the prices have been increased for gas and electricity in view of the enormous profits which were being made?
My Lords, both the nationalised industries are helping considerably in our campaign for energy efficiency, and both the nationalised industries are supportive of the Government's initiative.
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether he is aware that when coal was privately owned none of the colliery companies had done any research whatsoever into liquefaction, and that this has only come about since the NCB?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his information.
My Lords, would the Government consider putting a requirement in the building regulations that the floors of new domestic houses should be insulated, particularly if they are made of concrete?
My Lords, the energy efficiency office is in contact with the department about building regulations, and I will bring that to their attention.
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that there have been press reports that the Advisory Council on Energy Conservation might be disbanded? Would he indicate to us whether this is so, in view of the new initiative which the Government are taking in this field?
My Lords, the noble Lord is correct. The matter is currently under review and I understand a statement will be made shortly. I should like to pay tribute to the recent report from the ACEC which was a valuable contribution, and the Government are already carrying out a number of the Council's main recommendations. As the noble Lord will be aware, the creation of the energy efficiency office has produced a new climate in this field.