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Heating Problems: Strategy Proposal

Volume 484: debated on Wednesday 11 February 1987

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3.9 p.m.

rose to call attention to the case for a comprehensive strategy to end the problems of maintaining and conserving an adequate and efficient level of heating; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I am bound to say that during the exchanges at Question Time this afternoon I almost thought that the debate had started and I felt like moving that we should perhaps defer it to another date. However, I think that there is still more to be said on this subject and I shall continue.

During the past few weeks, the nation's attention has been focused once again on the impact of winter conditions on the elderly and other vulnerable groups. Because of the way we have managed these annual crises, the main debate has been almost wholly on the social security implications. These are, of course, important. It has to be said that for all the reasons we have listed in recent debates, the allowances are not adequate, nor do they get to those people in dire need. Nor are they cost effective. For example, heating additions are uprated annually according to inflation but fuel increases have risen higher in recent years than inflation. Since some fuels are more expensive than others and some homes harder to heat than others, the proportion of income that poor people spend on fuel is higher than average. Nor is any account taken in the notional fuel element for supplementary benefit allowances of the standing charges for fuel.

For example, in 1977 the annual standing charge for gas was £6 per quarter but last year it was £39.60; for electricity it was £32.60. We know that for many thousands of homes both charges are relevant because people have gas central heating and electric lights. It means that for many families about £1.40 is already taken up and therefore the heating allowances begin to look even less adequate.

The recently implemented weekly allowance was welcome. By being limited to some supplementary benefit claimants it fails to recognise the plight of large numbers of poor families who do not qualify for supplementary benefit, the plight of people on contributory benefits or low wages or the plight of pensioners living on basic pensions plus a small occupational pension. There are many others who do not identify themselves as suffering from hardship, either through pride or ignorance or for reasons concerned with the protection of privacy and so on. Therefore, the help does not reach those who probably need it the most. There is now widespread agreement that these measures are insufficient and inefficient and that something more is needed. My Motion is directed to that point.

We cannot continue to treat just the symptoms of these problems. The time has now come when we must treat the cause. The central cause of our domestic energy inefficiency is that a comparatively high proportion of the housing stock is old, poorly insulated, inefficiently heated and very often occupied by low income and socially vulnerable households. Three-quarters of the UK housing stock was built before 1965 and hence was not subject to any minimum insulation or heating standards. All that housing is inherently energy inefficient.

Because of its age, 40 per cent. of the UK housing is of solid-wall construction. Virtually none of the walls has been insulated, although I understand such walls lose heat at over three times the rate of the walls of new homes. The uninsulated roofs of dwellings constructed before the establishment of minimum insulation standards commonly lose heat at five to seven times the rate for newly built homes. According to the audits for Great Britain for 1985, 64 per cent. of UK dwellings have below the Government's currently recommended level of loft insulation.

The problem of draughtiness in our houses is equally serious, particularly in older dwellings with ill-fitting windows and doors, unrestricted flues, draughty loft hatches, gaps in the floorboards and cracks in the building structure itself. According to the same audit report, 61 per cent. of UK dwellings lack draughtproofing. I understand that later speakers may wish to develop that aspect.

About 60 per cent. of our housing stock is of cavity wall construction and 90 per cent. of those walls are uninsulated. Again I understand that those walls generally lose heat at just under three times the rate of new cavity walls. Indeed, 52 per cent. of UK dwellings lack cavity wall insulation.

As a result of this poor record of insulation, heating systems are expensive to run and ineffective and in winter the British people live in some of the coldest homes in Europe. Therefore, for too many of our people the problems of what has come to be known as fuel poverty are real and the numbers affected have increased substantially in recent years. Nor does fuel povery affect only the poor. It is a known fact that hundreds of thousands of families with incomes above the normal definitions of poverty cannot maintain adequate warmth in their homes. However, the problems of fuel poverty are most acute when low incomes are combined with high heating costs. I understand that it is called the "British heating problem".

In recent days I have been asked: "What is the difference between fuel poverty and other poverty? Why call it fuel poverty? Why not just call it poverty?" The answer must be that, of the three main items of expenditure, certainly for pensioners and low income families—namely food, housing and fuel—the factors influencing the cost of keeping warm, the fuel factors, are either beyond the households' control or can be altered only through capital expenditure. In other words, the main difference between fuel poverty and the wider poverty is that it is not only a problem of means not meeting needs, which requires more income, but it is also a problem which requires an element of capital expenditure.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I should like to make the point that there are two kinds of fuel. Well-fed people do not need so much warmth as badly-fed people. He stressed the point about food and fuel but I think that food is a very important point, particularly for old people, who should be well-fed.

My Lords, I accept that, but in the context of my remarks I was trying to distinguish between fuel poverty and poverty.

Simply to pour money into poor homes and then out again into the atmosphere, as well as being socially necessary is an inefficient use of resources. The fact is that no successful scheme of only financial assistance has yet been found, and I doubt whether it ever can be found given the circumstances that I have related so far.

What is needed is a system of measurement that establishes the heating needs of the variety of households that exist, allied to a planned programme of conservation measures—say a five- or a 10-year programme—designed to raise the standards of heating in homes throughout the country. I know that much thought and research concerning this aspect of the problem has already been carried out by government departments, voluntary organisations, university researchers and others workers studying the problems. I recently read a detailed study of a proposed method of measurement. It was written by Brenda Boardman for the Right to Fuel Campaign and it certainly made a lot of sense to me. While I do not have time to go through the whole study, I shall in defence of my argument and in support of my case briefly outline the main features of the proposal.

The proposal is for a cost of warmth index. That index for fuel poverty sufferers is based on seven main factors that would determine the cost of keeping warm a specific house for a specific family. They are as follows. The first is heat loss through the building fabric; that can be measured. The second is ventilation loss, again through draughty and poorly maintained houses; that can be quantified. The third is the efficiency of the heating system, and that can be assessed and measured. The fourth is the cost of fuel. It is estimated that the cost of a unit of delivered energy can vary by a factor of more than four between different fuels; that can certainly be measured. The fifth is the external temperature; that indicates how much the temperature has to be raised to achieve a comfortable temperature indoors. The sixth is the internal temperature for any given activity range. The temperature that most people find comfortable can be predicted. The seventh is the hours of occupancy, the assumption being that when the house is occupied it needs to be warm. Again that is capable of being measured.

Those seven factors—four of which relate to the building and heating system, one of which relates to the local climate and two of which are family-specific—can be used to measure the heating allowance necessary to maintain warmth in any specific home. This is much more relevant than the notional figure which is used at the moment to assess allowances for supplementary benefit. These factors can also be used to determine what improvements are necessary to increase thermal efficiency, to reduce ventilation losses and to improve the heating system. Therefore it could be applied to a programme of conservation measures. It is sensible that such a cost of warmth index can be applied to both those aspects of the problem.

In a Newsletter of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, the Fifth Fuel, the right honourable Peter Walker MP, Secretary of State for Energy, said:
"1986—"The Great leap Forward". 1986 will be the year of the Great Leap Forward for energy saving in Britain, according to Energy Secretary, Peter Walker. The Government have designated it as Energy Efficiency Year, and a new promotional slogan—Get More for your Monergy—has been coined.".
We were all aware of the slogan "Monergy" and the campaign, the cost of which was debated at length both in your Lordships' House and in another place.

In the same newsletter, the Secretary of State asked his civil servants:
"to look overseas for examples of where energy conservation programmes are succeeding, in order to achieve his target that 'by the end of this Parliament, Britain should be at the top of the international league of energy efficiency, and not at the bottom'".
He does not have very long now to achieve that very laudable aim. What is the current situation? Our housing stock in Britain is one of the worst heated and insulated in Europe according to the up-to-date facts. The result is that as a nation we are paying billions of pounds more than we need on fuel bills every year, and still people live in cold, damp houses.

Government-led investment has declined dramatically since 1979; namely, from £31·2 million in 1979 on 632,000 local authority homes to a figure just over £15 million in 1985 on 80,000 local authority dwellings. As we have heard today, it is not absolutely certain that expenditure on insulation programmes will remain as it was, and certainly it will be reduced so far as concerns some families. Existing programmes of draught-proofing may be in danger due to a lack of funds unless some assurances are forthcoming. Such investment programmes must he restored and investment increased to meet the needs that I have tried to outline in my remarks so far.

In Newcastle, the City Council have developed special training programmes to ensure that social workers and housing staff can handle energy-related problems effectively. They have opened the first independent energy information centre. They have improved insulation and heating in 2,500 dwellings per year and actively supported all community initiatives to target draught-proofing measures on lower income households. In Birmingham, the City Council have launched a city-wide "Keep Birmingham Warm" campaign. They have pioneered standard energy conservation improvements for a variety of house types. They have supported community and voluntary organisations undertaking home insulation work for the elderly.

In Hackney (an inner London borough), the council has set up a special heating advice project to boost substantially claimant take-up of heating benefits. They have created new ways of investing private sector capital in heating improvements through a special tenant heating and insulation service. They have also adopted a 10 point action plan for follow-up by appropriate council departments. These councils have shown what can be done to ensure that Britain's homes become better heated and better insulated. Such schemes should be supported and other councils should be encouraged to introduce similar schemes. We have the expertise; certainly we have the energy, the materials and the manpower. In fact, it has been estimated that upwards of 50,000 jobs can be created by an effective programme of insulation and heating. We certainly have the incentives. I do not want to give any more long quotations but I have a document from Eurisol which says after outlining a number of facts:
"These facts alone make an overwhelming case for the thermal upgrading of our housing stock as a major contribution to both national energy saving and improved living standards. There is scope for saving 22 per cent. on the national domestic fuel bill, equivalent to £1·5 billion per annum.".
That must be well worthwhile in any programme.

What is needed now is an urgent new national energy drive for all the reasons that I have mentioned; namely, social, economic, employment, energy and environmental reasons. It is urgent for the jobless and for those who shiver or suffer hardship in cold homes during the winter. It is also urgent for our inner city areas and our environment. Whichever government are elected soon will be forced to take practical steps to come to grips with this problem and to develop the comprehensive strategy which my Motion calls for.

Much more can be said but my time is up. I hope that I have said enough to introduce the subject. I shall listen with great interest to the rest of the debate and I look forward to the Minister's response. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.28 p.m.

My Lords, first I should like to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Stallard for I may have interrupted his speech. I had put my name down to speak in this debate but I did not then know that I was to follow him. I am delighted to do so and I congratulate him on his Motion, which I entirely support.

I propose to contribute to the debate, I hope from another angle. My reasons for saying that is that on 5th November the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, tabled an Unstarred Question which gave rise to an extremely interesting debate. The debate was concluded by a speech from the noble Baroness who will reply to this debate. Many of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, were touched upon in that debate. I agree with him that no harm will be done if efforts now being made to improve the difficulties to which the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, drew attention are reinforced and continued. If that is so, by next winter we shall be better equipped, not only as a result of insulation, draught-proofing, and double glazing but also, as I propose to show, as a result of an improved system of using off-peak electricity to meet the problem which the noble Lord described as "fuel poverty".

Noble Lords may wonder why I am interested in this matter. The fact is I was engaged in the electric supply industry in the East for many years. Off-peak electricity was then concerned with air conditioning. The reverse is the case here where off-peak electricity is needed to warm houses. I can further explain my interest by the fact that 30 years ago, with the help of the late lamented Lord Stonham, we were instrumental in introducing the words "supplementary benefit" to replace the words "national assistance". I had found during the course of my charitable work at that time in Edinburgh that many people were too proud to go on the parish for help; they would rather starve. The first step was to use the words which 30 years later are on everybody's lips when dealing with the underprivileged.

The words "supplementary benefit" are a very good yardstick by which to measure the extent to which poor people need assistance. Again, in collaboration with Lord Stonham, some years later we managed to drop purchase tax from storage-type heaters. At one time they attracted purchase tax. Coincident with the dropping of purchase tax on storage heaters was the nationalisation of electricity, which unfortunately meant that in many areas very low off-peak tariffs were replaced by off-peak tariffs sometimes seven or 10 times the rates which applied in the early 1950s. I say that with some feeling because I lived in the area of the Clyde Valley Electricity Supply Company, whose basic load was based on hydropower, which is the cheapest form of energy of all. That collaboration worked well.

Following the removal of purchase tax from storage heaters, there was a brief boom in night storage heaters. Alas, the rise in the off-peak tariffs made them less attractive. I shall return to that matter later, because the burden of my contribution to this very useful debate is to suggest that our electricity tariffs are too high anyway.

When deciding to speak in this debate, it was difficult for me to know exactly what I should say until I had heard the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Stallard. I have now heard his speech, and I entirely endorse it and the Motion.

I believe that lower off-peak rates and the provision of new types of night storage heater would go a long way towards alleviating the troubles to which the noble Lord referred. I carefully studied the speech of my noble friend Lady Hooper on 5th November last year and that of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, when he put down his Unstarred Question. I believe I am right in saying that both speeches dealt very freely with the problems to which the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, has referred. I look forward to hearing what my noble friend has to say in response to the noble Lord.

We know that a great deal of assistance is being given in the way of draught-proofing, insulation and all the other simple remedies which can be met by builders. However, what can we do about the price of electricity? Reference has been made to double-glazing, but it is not always successful. Under-floor heating has also been mentioned; I think I am right in saying that it has not been found to be universally satisfactory and that a lot of heat is wasted because of the absence of control switch gear.

It was fortuitous that about 10 days ago my electrician handed me a catalogue on the products of the Dimplex Company. I hold no brief for or any interest in the company, except that in my opinion it is probably the most experienced company in domestic space heating in Britain and perhaps in the world. After the debate last November I remember talking to my noble friend Lady Hooper and the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and asking them whether they could do anything to produce small storage-type heaters which would be sufficiently large to cope with a single room or a but-and-ben in which poor and underprivileged people live during the winter. As I say, I hold no brief for the Dimplex Company, but I am fascinated by its latest product which is called the XT ultra-slim and is more or less the product about which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and I spoke two months or so ago. It is a small storage-type heater.

As my noble friend Lady Hooper said in her speech last November (at col. 1164 of the Official Report):
"Modern heating systems with proper heating controls—especially thermostats and time-clocks—are much more efficient than they were ten years ago".
I should like to know how Dimplex managed to get sufficient bulk into this slim heater to retain the heat. In the 1950s I equipped an old house with the original type of storage heaters, which were enormously bulky and very heavy. I should be very interested to know—and I propose to find out—how this new type of slim heater retains the heat.

As the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, suggests, the time has come for a campaign to develop the off-peak ideal from the angle of electricity supply. The off-peak use of electricity not only has a contribution to make in terms of convenience to the less privileged people, but in terms of electricity supply it can make a very useful contribution to cost. If only we could fill in the valley of poor offtake during the night hours, we could improve the overall load factor and the cost of electricity to everyone.

That gives rise to an angle of thought in this debate which I propose to develop. The campaign suggested by the noble Lord and I, which should be implemented, should also be considered from the point of view of the cost of electricity supply. I believe that domestic heating supplies by the electricity boards are too expensive. I have spoken to someone who uses the white meter system—a system which we all respect and which is very well used throughout the country. He said that he was not so sure that it was quite fair and he had a feeling that because he had a white meter his rate for the ordinary supply was much higher than it would otherwise have been. I think that the authorities might look into that.

On the question of supply, as I explained, the Clyde Valley company had advantages due to its basic load being on hydropower. We are always being told that nuclear power produces very cheap electricity. Indeed during the last peak period I believe that large quantities of power were purchased at a low price from the French, who have developed their nuclear fission to this extent. I ask my noble friend and her pundits to say to what extent these cheap purchases of power have been passed on to the underprivileged.

To take another angle on the cost of electricity, I should like to know to what extent overall costs are being affected by the enormous losses involved in the Arthur Scargill miners' strike. Are we still paying for that? Is any measure of the costs involved in that strike being carried to the underprivileged in keeping up off-peak tariffs? Perhaps the answer to that can be found quite easily. If the rates could be reduced, there would be more opportunity for the damp and the other troubles to which the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, drew attention to be dealt with by this excellent type of heating.

There is another point to be considered. The catalogue that I have in my hand does not contain any prices. I have not asked what they are, but they cannot be cheap. In the campaign to which the noble Lord referred, is it possible in the benefits for those on supplementary benefit to provide that the capital costs of these small night storage heaters are supplemented, just as insulation, draught-proofing and so on are supplemented? In pursuing the possibility of lower unit costs for electricity, could some capital costs be provided by the state in the campaign to which the noble Lord has referred and which I and I know the rest of your Lordships hope will take place before another winter comes? It is too late now even if there is another cold snap.

I congratulate the noble Lord on the Motion, and I support it.

3.43 p.m.

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, pointed out, we have debated this subject recently and indeed on many occasions in the past. Nevertheless I think that the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, is quite right in introducing the Motion in view of what has so recently happened over the winter. He has also drawn the subject more widely than we debated it on the previous occasion. I should like to respond to the opportunity that this has given us by speaking on the subject within a wider framework.

I start with new buildings, because obviously the standards established for new buildings will determine the way in which people will heat their premises in future. The Department of the Environment has recently issued a consultative document on new building regulations. The document contains the department's views on what the heating regulations should be. Comments on the document are asked for by 31st March. I feel that it would be appropriate therefore to refer to the document in the course of this debate.

The objectives set out in that document seem to me to be entirely satisfactory. The proposals,
"aim to save in a cost-effective way about 20 per cent. of the energy required for space heating in a typical house and to improve energy efficiency in offices, shops and many other buildings".
They are, therefore, highly desirable. However, I feel that some difficulties arise from the way in which this is to be brought about. I hope that these will stimulate a good deal of comment.

So far as industrial and storage buildings are concerned, it is stated that because of the diversity in use of such buildings, while every encouragement should be given to achieve effective heating standards by good insulation and other means, nonetheless no minimal standards could be set. I think that this would be unwise. The fact is that every year some 9 million square metres of new industrial and storage space is constructed in this country. At least two-thirds of that is built speculatively—in other words, the use is not known in advance. I suggest that there is a strong case, at least in the speculative building of industrial and storage structures, to have minimum standards of heat conservation.

When it comes to residential buildings there is also a problem because here a concept of flexibility is introduced—the term "trade off" is used—as between different forms of heat insulation. It is suggested that it should be left to the builder to decide which form of insulation is introduced into a house so long as in total it conforms with the energy saving laid down, but I feel that this could be open to some doubt.

It is conceivable under these proposals, for example, that roof insulation would be omitted altogether because it might be claimed that other forms of insulation provided the necessary standard. I feel that the purchasers or occupiers of such new buildings should be assured under the new regulations of minimum standards of insulation for all the obvious features—roof insulation, hot water cylinders, doors, windows, walls and so on. Those are the two points that I would make on the new building regulations.

In regard to the existing housing stock, we know from the many debates that we have had on the subject how extensive the deficiencies are. There are deficiencies in all sorts of respects, but we are concerned with the heating deficiencies. This has been clearly set out by the Government.

I should like here to quote a circular issued in August last year by the Department of Energy as part of Energy Efficiency Year. It refers to the deficiencies in insulation in the 20 million homes in the United Kingdom. It states:
"one in three is without a hot water cylinder jacket, 3 million have only one inch of loft insulation rather than the four inches now considered desirable, 9 million have unfilled cavity walls and 12 million have no draught stripping."
This is a very sad commentary on our existing housing stock. If anything were to demonstrate the validity of the case put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, I think that these statistics emanating from the Government themselves do just that.

We know therefore that we have a real problem. I hope that we shall be advised by the noble Baroness when she replies to the debate that the Government have decided upon a clearly defined and positive strategy to tackle these problems within a measurable period of time. This is a question not only of promotion and publicity; there must be direct incentives to stimulate people to improve the standards in their homes. In this connection the revamping of the home insulation grants, which came up in a Question asked earlier today by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, is relevant. I should have thought that this was just the wrong time to remove an incentive for householders and house occupiers to improve the insulation of their homes.

I am fully in support of extending the assistance provided to those on low incomes, and I should not like to suggest by any manner of means that the Government should go back on what they have done to extend this in that respect, but I feel that they ought to think again about withdrawing this incentive from other householders. I feel that it gives the wrong signal altogether at a time when we are perfectly well aware that so much needs to be done to improve the heat efficiency of the homes of Britain.

What we need, as the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, pointed out is to have clearly-defined standards for home heating. In fact these are well understood by now. It is known what the level of heating ought to be in different rooms according to their usage. I should have thought it highly desirable for these to be given an official status and the action taken to improve homes—whether in the private or the public sector; whether in low income groups or other income groups—related to those objectives. Then we should all know where we stood. As it is, there are no clear standards laid down and this is a vague and grey area.

I should like to refer specifically to the problem of those on low incomes and the elderly. We need to consider the size of this problem. The Department of the Environment estimated in 1984 that £4 billion needed to be spent to upgrade council housing stock in Great Britain to acceptable thermal levels. A large proportion of those homes of course would be inhabited by people on low incomes.

The present rate of annual expenditure for improving the thermal efficiency of these homes is of the order of something like £50 million. If you divide 50 into 4 billion you come to the answer that at the present rate of progress it will take us something like 80 years to achieve the improvements that the Department of the Environment estimated to be necessary. That of course leaves out of account entirely the private sector where there are also many deficiencies.

What is being done by way of public expenditure in improving the thermal efficiency of homes is rightly concentrated on low-income households. It is estimated that there are some 6 million or so of these; that is, householders which are on supplementary benefit. It includes 2 million householders of pensionable age.

The main body conducting insulation in this category of householders is the Neighbourhood Energy Action organisation, with which the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, and I are closely involved. This was started in 1981. It has already insulated 300,000 homes in the category of those on low incomes and has increased its rate of insulation to 200,000 per annum. It is doing valuable work and has been supported by a number of government departments. It employs 6,000 people under the community programme, and by April 1988, if present plans mature, this will rise to 8,000.

However, despite this progress, as the figures show, there is much more to be done. It is not just a question of doubling up, or indeed trebling up, if we want to deal with this problem in a measurable amount of time. Therefore it is regrettable to have to say that even this programme, which is relatively limited in relation to the nature of the problem, is now being threatened.

Under the Social Security Act 1986 the DHSS proposes to abolish the single payment for the draught-proofing of homes of those on low incomes from March 1988. There has been a great deal of discussion about this to ensure that this help will be forthcoming in some other way, and indeed on a growing scale if the increased programme of the NEA is to survive. But regrettably so far no agreement has been reached.

Unless an agreement is reached by October or November of this year, this major programme will have to start running down because it cannot operate without the funds which have hitherto been available under the single-payment scheme. There is much encouragement for the programme from, for example, the Department of Energy, because it fits so well with what it is trying to do. Indeed, I was over at the department yesterday presenting certificates to some of those who install this draught-proofing.

It would be somewhat anomalous if a programme of this sort, so fully supported by one department of state, were abruptly brought to an end by another department of state. I trust that this will not happen and that the noble Baroness will have some words of reassurance to give us when she speaks. This is a most important issue.

I should like to conclude by suggesting that under the comprehensive strategy that the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, is proposing we should aim basically to do three things. As to new construction, I have made suggestions that under the new building regulations there should be clearly defined minimum standards laid down both for industrial and residential properties. Secondly, so far as existing buildings are concerned, we must put in hand a major programme to stimulate and encourage efficiency in insulation. There should be suitable incentives, and we should aim to try to get the problem resolved within a measurable time.

Finally, so far as the low income groups are concerned and especially the elderly, there is an urgent need for the replacement of the single-payment scheme so as to enable the present programme to go ahead, but that programme itself needs to be at least doubled again, and then again, in order to deal effectively with the problem.

3.57 p.m.

My Lords, perhaps I may first join previous speakers in congratulating my noble friend and colleague Lord Stallard on introducing this debate and giving us the opportunity to speak on a subject which is very important and topical, bearing in mind the inclement weather that we had only some few days ago. I think that the debate has wider connotations than the title we are debating. We are in effect talking about the best use of energy resources in the country.

I would have developed the theme earlier at Question Time, but one has to be concise and short in the questions one puts to a Minister. However, I have figures which show that we, as a nation, are probably among the worst, if not the worst, wasters of energy in Europe. This is comparing ourselves with nations of a comparable size. In most aspects we come out badly in any league, as we are defined as an exorbitant waster of the energy that we produce. I understand that it is over 20 per cent. A lot of this is because on the domestic side the country is almost totally unequipped to deal with the situation. There is far too much energy wasted in the homes of this country.

It is also a fact that the Minister's information today is at odds with the information that has been given to me by professional people involved in the insulation industry. I tried to make the point—I do not think that the Minister accepted it—that under the changes that the Government have announced there would be fewer people applying for insulation benefits. The Minister went to great lengths to tell me that because they had made it 90 per cent. for an increasing number of people, that there would be more take-up. I have the figures here. They are taken from Building magazine early this month. The magazine says that the money available for loft insulation has been cut from £26 million in 1986–87 to £15 million for the year after. If it is being cut, or even if it remains the same, surely if one allows houses that come within the criteria to receive a 90 per cent. grant—I believe the previous grant was 60 per cent.—by any mathematics it is clear that the total can only be divided among fewer applicants. I quote from this article once again:
"Many contractors specialising in loft insulation could be forced out of business by government cuts to next year's Housing
Insulation Grant, according to the National Association of Loft Insulation Contractors. It claims the move will reduce workload by over 75%."
Later the article states that NALIC:
"said 90% of its members' work comes from grant-related jobs. Of this, only 12% is from households on supplementary benefits.
"A spokesman said: 'We will lose many expert smaller contractors who specialise in loft insulation. The government is hoping the withdrawal of the grant will make people turn to DIY.
'Firms will probably be very busy until February, when the grant rules change. But after that they will have to turn to local authority and contract work'."
We already know in the broadest sense that money to local authorities has been cut so there will be no expanding market there. The quote continues:
"The money available for loft insulation has been cut from £26m in 1986–1987 to £15m this year. The government's reasoning behind the cutback is that available funds should be targeted to areas of need."
I do not think anybody would quarrel with that—I believe the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said almost the same thing—so long as the cuts are restored to the other people from whom they have been removed. The quote continues:
"Nearly 90 per cent. of accessible roofs in England are now insulated, and we should now concentrate the scheme's assistance on those people who find it most difficult to afford the costs of loft insulation.".
That statement was attributed to the Minister for Housing, Mr. Patten. The quote continues:
"But according to Eurisol secretary general Ian Knight, 85 per cent. of the 20 million houses in the UK are not insulated to the current building regulation standards.
'More than two million houses still have no insulation in the lofts, 1·25 million have one inch or less and another 2·25 million have two inches or less. Current regulations call for a minimum of four inches of insulation—which is totally inadequate'.".
These are the figures and the opinions that the people involved in the industry are expressing. I fail to be convinced, having studied that document, that the information in the brief given to the Minister by her civil servants was correct. I believe that the builders are right and that there will be a reduction in the number of people applying for housing insulation grants. That is extremely sad, bearing in mind that we are already known as one of the biggest wasters of energy in Europe.

In another debate some time ago a noble Lord, I think on the Cross-Benches, quoted the frightening rapidity with which the world was using up non-renewable energy resources. The figures were quite alarming. It is unforgiveable that we are not safeguarding and using to their maximum efficiency the treasures that we still continue to take out of the ground in the form of coal and oil. I believe the statement that has been made will act detrimentally.

I should like to put a specific question to the Minister. When is the cut-off point when the grants will no longer be applicable? Was it dated from the Minister's statement or will it be from today? If it is from today, will the Minister give an undertaking that anybody who applied for insulation grants during the recent very severe cold weather will—as long as those applications are in the hands of the local authority, they will be allowed to process them—receive their grants. Otherwise it seems rather unfair. I know from my own experience that there was a rush for insulation grants because of the recent cold weather. They were realistic applications, not phoney ones made just because people realised that a benefit was available. I do not know exactly what the average grant might be but, for an average semi-detached house, at the top of the scale, it would probably be about £80 at the most. Before I came to your Lordships' House I insulated my own house. The installation of a four-inch thick thermal cladding in the loft is of immense benefit not only to the occupants of the house but also to society as a whole in terms of energy conservation.

There are a number of other statistics that can be made available to prove the point that the Government are unfortunately going down the wrong road. There are statistics to show the improvement that could be expected in the health of elderly people and in the health of people in the more deprived areas where the housing is particularly bad. Health could be improved in the widest sense from the babies and children up to the elderly people who are so prone to hypothermia in the type of weather we experienced some weeks ago. However, I do not wish to quote any more statistics as I think we have had sufficient to indicate to the Minister that she should go back to the Secretary of State for the Environment and ask him to reconsider this as a matter of urgency because of the pittance that is represented by these cuts in the insulation grant. There is no doubt that there will be cuts in these programmes and people will not come forward without the incentive. We shall pay a much bigger price for it later and in the future the cost will be much higher than if the job were done today.

Having said that, once again I want to thank my noble friend and colleague Lord Stallard for giving us the opportunity to debate such an important and topical subject.

4.8 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, in an excellent and knowledgeable speech, has drawn your Lordships' attention to what I think is a very important problem of our age. I do not intend to follow the knowledgeable noble Lords who have spoken before me, but I intend to read their speeches afterwards because I have already learnt a great deal more about this subject than I shall be able to impart to your Lordships in my brief remarks.

This country is well behind most of Europe in home insulation. I spent Christmas and New Year in Poland and when I left Warsaw the temperature was 35 degrees below zero Centigrade. But at no time in the three weeks I spent visiting people in their homes—I stayed in Polish houses all the time, never in a hotel—was it cold indoors.

I noticed during the recent cold spell here in this country—getting slightly off the subject—that people in London simply did not know how to dress out of doors. For example, going out in that weather in a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt means that it takes you a long time to get warm again back indoors. And that could cause illness. However, that is a diversion. It was said in the press and elsewhere during the recent cold spell that we do not usually face such severe weather. That is not my experience. Almost every year we have a severe spell of weather. There are the odd years when we do not, but we have damp cold every winter in this country. It is then that one reads newspaper stories of old ladies huddled in front of two-bar electric fires but only able to afford to put on one bar. That is a most pathetic situation to read about.

Unfortunately, we cannot go on pretending that this is unusual. As has already been pointed out, damp houses, inadequate insulation and poor heating are still widespread. However, I would divert from the general line of your Lordships' arguments and say that the reason is not only poverty. That is the cause to a large extent but partly it stems from our nation's past. I remember from my childhood that to be comfortable, even indoors, was considered to be soft and degrading in some sense.

There are people with plenty of money who shiver in their houses every winter. We have all met them, and I daresay some of them may sit in your Lordships' House. I have spent many uncomfortable and chilly hours in the houses of friends. The worst aspect of it as has been pointed out by other noble Lords, is that they are probably paying more for the wretched and inadequate heating they have than is paid by people who live in warm houses. Your Lordships will have experienced the type of dwelling I mean—a convector heater here, a miserable little one-bar electric fire somewhere else and night storage heaters turned low because the owner of the house does not think it cold enough to turn them up.

When these people grow old, they probably still have plenty of money. But they may become even colder. I do not know what we can do about them except try to persuade them that living in damp, cold houses is bad for their health. The people I am talking about could spend their own money if they thought it proper. One might also explain to them that adequate heating normally costs less than poor heating and that one-bar electric fires, convectors and similar things consume a huge amount of electricity, as do electric immersion water heaters. The sort of people I am talking about nearly always seem to have their water tanks heated by electrical immersion heaters; I do not know why.

Also, the National Health Service might have more beds to spare and doctors might have more time if we could persuade these more prosperous people to change their ways and to do something about making their houses warmer. It is not good for anyone of any age to live in a cold, damp house. It does not make them hardier, stronger or fitter. They finish up with bad chests and water on the knee, and they cost the health service a fortune.

I turn briefly to methods of heating and the economics of those methods. My knowledge is not nearly as comprehensive as that of other noble Lords who have spoken. At one time I owned a medium-sized Scottish farmhouse, which was very difficult to heat and very cold in the winter. After two or three years of these conditions, I had had enough and I got in touch with an oil company who installed a boiler and several radiators. Under the contract I was to pay off the installation costs over 10 years. Incidentally, there was a large damp patch at one gable end of the house and I had spent a fortune on builders' repairs without any success at all.

The following winter, with the central heating installed, the house was warm and the damp patch disappeared. However, the best news was the heating bill. Including the capital repayments—I stress that point—my total bill for heating was actually less than it had been the previous year in a cold house. That is a good story. It could not be exactly repeated now perhaps because of the hike in the price of oil. Nonetheless, I think it is near enough repeatable. If we can pay less to heat people better we must be winning the battle. That is the way to approach the matter.

I agree with practically everything that has been said this afternoon. I regret, however, that I have to disagree to some extent with my noble friend Lord Ferrier on the subject of night storage heaters. I had these heaters in a home which I owned. One of the troubles was that when it got cold you turned them on. Twenty-four hours later, when the next warm spell of weather started they were operating at full blast so that everybody sweltered while they were subsiding again. Also, as they came on at night, it tended to be rather cool in the evening when people wanted to sit down and keep warm. They were actually best while getting out of bed in the morning and shaving, and that sort of thing. Personally, I do not think they are a very good contribution to the problem nowadays. I found them expensive and inefficient. Quite frankly, I hate them. However, I will not go any further into that. That is really all I have to say on this subject.

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, regarding his criticism of night storage heaters, I referred to what the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, mentioned in an earlier speech—that the thermostatic and clock-timing controls today are infinitely better than they were 10 years ago, and more automatic.

My Lords, I am very glad to hear what my noble friend has to say.

4.17 p.m.

My Lords, I am glad that this Motion is being debated. With the inevitable decline in North Sea oil and gas resources, energy conservation is of vital importance to this nation and I am sure that in the long term energy costs will rise.

I want to consider this Motion under three separate headings: first, more effective energy use in new houses; secondly, improvement to the installation of houses by those who can afford it; and, finally, what can be done to help those who cannot afford the cost of improvement themselves or their heating costs.

I congratulate the Government on their new approach to energy efficiency. It took a long time to get any improvements to the building regulations, which specify minimum insulation requirements for new houses. We still await minimum requirements for floor insulation. Roughly 15 per cent. of the heat in a house goes out through the floor and in a fairly well insulated house it rises to 20 per cent. Therefore floor insulation is very important indeed.

We are still behind other European countries in our standards. I vividly remember that in the past my pleas for better standards were met by the assertion that market forces would take care of the situation. I then pointed out that with an uninformed public it would take years before they knew enough of the merits of high insulation for it to affect the building industry and for them to want to pay a small extra sum for better insulated houses. It is now just beginning to become a factor in house purchasing and in the meantime, we have built inadequately insulated houses for a future generation.

"Degree days" can give a useful guide. Our winters are less harsh than those of Europe, but they last longer. "Degree Days" tots up the days, multiplied by the temperature difference between the outside and the inside comfort temperature. On this basis, Edinburgh is almost the equivalent of Bergen, Glasgow is worse than Zurich and London is similar to New York. I know that this concept can be attacked in minor ways, but overall the message remains true.

In my second category are those who could afford to improve the insulation of their houses if they were convinced that it was worth while. It is never quite as easy to achieve effective energy conservation by modifying old houses. It is easier in a new house but much can still be done—draught-proofing, loft and cavity wall insulation and even under-floor insulation.

Double glazing, if considered only on its merits for heat insulation, is rather expensive, but of course it has other advantages. It draught-proofs windows, prevents a cold down-draught from windows and, to some extent, cuts down noise. The sophisticated opening type of double glazing is very expensive, but DIY glazing of windows which need not be opened is fairly cheap and effective. I have adopted this solution myself. At the end of my speech I shall return to the merits of insulating all our existing housing stock.

I should now like to consider the real hardship of those who cannot afford their heating bills and whose houses are badly insulated. I realise that, unfortunately, this must mean some central or local government expenditure. The Government have encouraged voluntary groups to put in the insulation. But this is only a drop in the ocean, although I applaud the scheme and those who work for it. In my view there should be an audit for those who are in real need, with more inspectors to see where help should be given as a priority. Just paying out money to those in need is inefficient and not a long-term solution. With old people, particularly those living alone, free provision or loan of low voltage blankets or even heated spacesuits should be considered as a temporary measure. Either of these uses very little electricity and it would be possible to keep warm in a room down to, say, 50 degrees Fahrenheit, below which lung infection in older people may be a consideration.

I end this speech by giving some figures which emphasise the importance of what I have been saying. But much more important in my view is what the Government should do. Over 20 per cent. of our energy consumption in this country is used for domestic heating in some 20 million homes. This represents a cost of some £7 billion a year. Of these 20 million houses, 15½ million have poorly insulated roofs or no insulation at all; 17½ million have no insulation in their walls and almost none has floor insulation. This is a very sorry picture.

By spending under £900 million on cavity wall insulation, the energy saving should theoretically offset this expenditure in about seven years. In addition, there is the £400 million spent each year in direct payments for supplementary heating benefit. Furthermore, the need to construct one new power station costing £1½ billion might be avoided by a large insulation programme over the next few years.

I always try to be honest and the overall picture may not be quite as rosy as I have stated. I agree that some of the increased insulation benefit will be accepted, not by reducing the consumption of fuel, but by getting a more equable inside climate. Nevertheless, the economic viability of what I have tried to describe still remains. I very much hope that the Government will be able to tell us that they are looking very seriously at the proposal to try to insulate our existing housing stock, certainly before the end of the century.

4.25 p.m.

My Lords, I was very pleased to listen to my noble friend Lord Stallard making such a comprehensive introduction to his debate which concerns an all-important subject. I was also extremely interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, covering so many points: first, the new building regulations which seem of absolutely fundamental importance; secondly, the heating deficiencies of our existing housing stock; and, thirdly, the importance of the work being done by the voluntary organisations working in the field of home insulation. I very much hope that the Minister will respond to some of the points which he made at the end of his speech.

If I dare enter into the discussion about night storage heaters, let me from personal experience agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, who said that the present night storage heaters spread the heat throughout the day and do not concentrate it in the middle of the night when, as the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven, so rightly said it is not necessary.

We have also spoken today—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven, who particularly mentioned this—about the unaccountable fact that being cold is a more acceptable state in Britain than in other countries. It may be some national characteristic that even well-to-do people in Britain think, as a matter of discipline, that they should put up with being cold. We have also referred to the tragic phenomenon of hypothermia which is considered a British disease. To prove this there is unequivocal evidence that there is a higher seasonal mortality in Britain than in other countries, even if those other countries have more severe winters. One is left facing the question of why we allow this to go on? Why do we accept that there should be ill-health, in some cases death and in many cases extreme discomfort from the cold in our houses, which can be avoided?

Again, one must remember the cruel paradox, that it is the very people who can least afford to pay their fuel bills who need the most fuel. Elderly people, families with small children and the unemployed spend a great deal longer in their houses than those who go off to an office and use the heat provided by their employers. Therefore, as I say, in this paradoxical way it is the poorest people who need the most heat and who are the least able to pay for it.

The AMA has brought out some disquieting statistics, just one or two of which I should like to quote to your Lordships. It has pointed out that the major problems resulting from the continuing underinvestment in better heating and insulation are that there are still 2 million homes which are prone to dampness and condensation, that pressure upon social work case loads has increased because of fuel debts, that there were as many as 130,000 fuel disconnections in 1985–86 and that rent arrears are aggravated on the estates that are hardest to heat.

It also points out that the level of government-led investment in energy conservation has declined dramatically since 1979. In 1979, the dwellings completed under local authority energy conservation schemes were 632,000, and in 1985 the number was down to 80,000, which is a very great decrease. The AMA also made the point that, although the Government have failed to develop a comprehensive strategy nationally, there are a number of authorities that try to do this locally; and my noble friend Lord Stallard quoted what has been done in Newcastle, Birmingham and Hackney. These local programmes and the local work which is going on seem to be of great importance and they could well be followed through on a national level.

I should like to mention one area in the United Kingdom which suffers particularly from fuel poverty. That area is Northern Ireland. I was reminded of this fact a few weeks ago when I visited Belfast to speak at a conference about hypothermia and fuel poverty organised by Age Concern. Northern Ireland provides such an extreme example of heating problems for a combination of reasons. They include greater cold weather, ill health, cold homes and low incomes, which are more significant in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the United Kingdom. For example, a third of the population in Northern Ireland relies upon social security benefits. Average wages are almost 20 per cent. below those in Britain. Heating a home adequately is, according to a Northern Ireland economic council, over 40 per cent. more expensive that in it is in Britain because of higher electricity and gas costs.

For many years fuel poverty was monitored and measured through the number of disconnections made by electricity and gas suppliers. However, such indicators do not provide a complete reflection of fuel poverty. The reason is that in Northern Ireland there are wider powers under the Act concerned with repayment of debts to deduct fuel arrears directly from people's wages and benefits. This ensures that fuel bills are met, no matter what the cost in personal hardship. Furthermore, people who cannot afford to buy a bag of coal, which is the most common domestic fuel in Northern Ireland, effectively disconnect themselves. Therefore, a better indicator of fuel poverty is the increasing evidence of ill health and deaths among people who are unable to keep warm.

People working in the field of energy conservation and fuel poverty in the Province have made many recommendations. They advise that a fuel benefit of £5 a week for those on child benefit, retirement pensions, disability allowance and invalidity benefit should be made. They advise that there should be an end to disconnection of electricity supply on the present basis and that there should be intensive research into the extent of fuel poverty and cold-related ill health in the Province, which up to now has not taken place.

As other speakers have noted, one wonders what can best be done about the situation. The AMA has made some sensible and fundamental suggestions. It first talks about the building regulations, which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has already covered. It talks about the fact that the Government have failed to agree a consistent and effective standard of warmth for Britain's homes. The only agreed level is the minus 1.5 degrees centigrade temperature for severe weather payments which is used rather than the original target temperature for accommodation for the elderly of 21 degrees centigrade, which seemed to be a better way of measuring need.

The AMA also talks about the lack of investment and the fact that the Government have consistently failed to enable local authorities to invest in a systematic way in better heating and insulation. The Department of the Environment estimated in 1985 that £4 billion was needed to be spent on thermally uprating the council housing stock in the United Kingdom. There is little sign that such investment will be forthcoming in the current circumstances.

Lastly, let me add a word to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, about Neighbourhood Energy Action, in which I am involved. I should like to mention how that important voluntary organisation started. It began in the 1970s when fuel prices were going up. A group of Durham students realised that old people were suffering very much and were unable to pay their fuel bills. They, as students, were hardly able to help with fuel bills. However, they realised that they could go round to help old people make their houses warmer. That is how the organisation started. The students themselves, in an independent way, went round trying to help old age pensioners to keep warm in their houses.

I stress the great concern that the NEA has and the very great risk to its important work, which has been described by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and which is under threat. It has built this work up over the years and worked out a very sensible formula. Not only the NEA but many others today will hang on the words of the Minister when she tells us, as I hope she will, how single payments will be replaced. Without single payments, the work of home insulation carried on in this way by voluntary organisations cannot go on.

4.37 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, reminded the House that on 5th November my noble friend Lord Ezra asked an Unstarred Question on this subject. In putting the Question he covered that area comprehensively and he received a comprehensive reply from the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. Other noble Lords took part. However, since then we have had the experience of severe winter weather, there has been a change in the grants for loft insulation and there has been a change in the formula for triggering severe weather payments and much controversy about those payments.

As my noble friend Lord Ezra has said, it is therefore appropriate that we should return to this subject today. I am sure that the House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, for giving us the opportunity to do so and for making many important points in relation to this subject.

The first thing which strikes me about this problem is the comparison between the United Kingdom and other countries, to which the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven, my noble friend Lord Ilanworth, and also the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, referred. The increase in mortality in the winter months in the United Kingdom is 24 per cent. The increase in Canada and Sweden, both of which have more severe winters than we do, is 6 per cent. There is much argument as to why that is so. It is suggested by some that there are special circumstances in Britain which bring that about; it is argued by others that it is simply because we do not organise ourselves in order to deal with the cold weather when it comes.

There may be disagreement on that point. However, I am sure there is considerable agreement on the things we can and must do to improve the situation. First of all, we must have a more efficient use of energy. That means that we must improve existing homes and that in turn means loft insulation and draught-proofing. With regard to loft insulation, I believe that 87 per cent. of our homes now have some measure of loft insulation. However, that insulation is only considered to be adequate in about 37 per cent. of the cases. Therefore, if one takes those figures one can work out that in at least half the houses with insulation there is a great deal requiring to be done. This was pointed out by the noble Lords, Lord Stallard and Lord Dean, and by my noble friend Lord Ezra.

As we have heard, the insulation grants have been extended so far as the 90 per cent. rate is concerned to all people on supplementary benefit and housing benefit. However, the 66 per cent. grant has been withdrawn. That means that pensioners, for example, who are only slightly above the benefit level and who could have qualified before for these grants, have now lost their entitlement entirely.

I should like to ask the noble Baroness about the scheme called Budget Warmth. I wonder whether she can give us more information about that scheme. It has been tried out as a pilot scheme in certain parts of the country. Under the scheme, the Electricity Council will insulate a nominated room in the house of an elderly person or elderly people. They will install heating and they will control that heating by remote control at the appropriate temperature. The cost of it is known in advance to the elderly person concerned, which is helpful, and he or she cannot turn down the heating, so there is no fear of being left in the cold. Can the noble Baroness say how that scheme is operating and whether there is any possibility of its extension?

After loft insulation we come to draught-proofing. What we are most concerned about in that connection is the point to which the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, referred and which has been mentioned by other speakers; namely, what is going to happen after 1988 when the social fund is installed? I think it is generally agreed that loans from the social fund would not be a satisfactory way of providing grants for the materials necessary for draught-proofing. I think it is agreed also that some form of grant is essential but as yet we do not know what that form is going to be. Again, it would be welcome if the noble Baroness could provide us with some guidance on that subject.

The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, referred to the fact that 61 per cent. of houses in this country lack draught-proofing. We are aware of the work done by Neighbourhood Energy Agency, with which my noble friend Lord Ezra and the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, are associated. My noble friend Lord Ezra said, when putting his Question on 5th November, that even if that organisation doubled its activities it would not be able to deal with the task in less than 30 years. There is therefore an urgency for the kind of campaign which the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, asked for; the kind of campaign which was instituted when, a few years ago, there was the conversion to North Sea gas.

My noble friend Lord Ezra referred to the need to build better homes and spoke about the consultative document. I am quite sure the Government will wish to consider carefully what he said about that. It is encouraging that advice on saving fuel is available from the Solid Fuel Advisory Service, the electricity and gas industries and the Energy Efficiency Office. All that is helpful. There are 6 million homes occupied by people on supplementary benefit. That includes 2 million pensioners. That, clearly, must be the principal area for improvement.

Those are, of course, also the households where paying for fuel is a serious problem. I think it is important that the price of fuel should not be kept unnecessarily high as a result of government policy and dictation. It is essential, too, to have adequate benefits for those who simply cannot meet their fuel bills. It is perhaps not inappropriate to recall that there have been some cuts in fuel benefits in recent years. In 1983 the application of the available scale margin to heating additions for the first time meant that those on long term supplementary benefit lost £1 per week from the heating addition. In 1985 central heating additions were ended for all new claimants.

We know, of course, that there is an allowance for heating in the basic supplementary benefit level. We know that there are additional payments to people with particular heating problems. That is the point: they are for people with particular heating problems. As my noble friend Lord Hanworth pointed out, they total some £400 million a year. Those additional payments are all to be replaced by general premiums to certain groups of people; not people defined by heat problem but defined by other circumstances. We understand that the £400 million is to go into that general pool. I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether it would be possible to identify in future years, when the scheme is operating, the amount which is being allocated for heating. I should also like to know whether the noble Baroness is satisfied that the people who now receive these heating additions because of particular heating problems will not lose out under the new arrangements.

Is there a case for a fuel premium, perhaps payable in winter only? That brings me to the severe weather payments. We welcome the fact that the threshold has been raised but it would seem that a retrospective benefit—a benefit which depends on past temperatures —must be unsatisfactory. How is a prospective claimant to know whether the temperature is going to average less than the limit for a period of seven days from Monday to Sunday? If the Government are determined to keep that retrospective system of triggering, will they consider having a rolling seven-day period so that the first seven days which averaged less than the limit would trigger the benefit?

Is seven days perhaps too long? Is not that something we have learnt from the recent cold spell? Perhaps four days is a more suitable period if we are to have this particular type of triggering system. Is £5 per week enough? I understand that £5 would heat one room for two days. Of course, it is important that all rooms should be kept warm if possible, and not just one room. Finally on these payments, is it right to maintain the restriction for those who have £500 or more of savings? That amount is just about the cost, for many people, of a funeral.

Finally, three departments are involved on this general attack on fuel poverty. They are the Department of Energy, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Health and Social Security. How is the campaign against fuel poverty to be co-ordinated, and not merely co-ordinated but driven forward? Should not one department, one Minister, take the lead? We know what needs to be done—and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, that we have the resources to do it—but whether it is done will depend upon the drive, the determination and the leadership of those in authority.

4.47 p.m.

My Lords, I add my thanks to those of other noble Lords to my noble friend Lord Stallard for giving the House this opportunity to debate this subject again today. I think it is necessary for it to be debated again because, as the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, said, we try to pretend that winter does not happen in this country, but every year we are surprised by it and every year we suffer from it. The only answer is to keep pressing, particularly in regard to the needs of elderly people in cold weather, and to press the matter throughout the summer so that, it is to be hoped, by next winter we will see some improvement.

There has been no shortage of novel ideas this afternoon. I was particularly impressed with the suggestion from the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, for, I think, some kind of space suit for the elderly. That conjures up a lovely picture of elderly citizens sitting round the television watching "East Enders" through their visors and turning up the heat as necessary! It is certainly a novel idea that I have not heard before.

I am not quite sure about the solution put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, for a room where the occupant could not turn down the heat. I think I might find that uncomfortable and I am not sure that everyone would want it. However, I take the point that we must make sure there is a minimum level of heating.

It is tempting to stray into the whole question of energy conservation but I shall leave that subject for another day and keep to the matter now before us. No doubt we shall hear from the noble Baroness who is to reply about the heating allowances made by the DHSS and the fact that there is a notional heating element in all supplementary benefit payments. We recognise that, but the reality is that the sum allowed is affected by the needs of the recipient. The point has been made by my noble friends Lord Stallard and Lady Ewart-Biggs and a number of other speakers including the noble Lord, Lord Banks, that it is poor people who live in the worst housing. Therefore it is those with the lowest incomes who have to find the most money for heating.

It has been said before, and I do not think it can be said too often because we need to be reminded of it, that these people are liable to have old and less efficient heating appliances. The storage heaters that were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, may be a solution but they have their shortcomings and there would have to be considerable improvements to them before I for one should want to recommend them as a method of heating for elderly people. In the meantime, very often they were saddled with inefficient old fires and terribly inefficient old gas heaters and they do not have the money to replace them. The money that is paid by the DHSS as a heating element is not sufficient for any capital expenditure on replacement of that kind. Their houses lack insulation, and doors and windows fit badly, so that even the pathetically small amount of heat that can be generated is quickly lost to them.

I shall not go into all the statistics about houses in need of renovation. They have already been given several times this afternoon. Perhaps I may just remind your Lordships that for those with adequate means, who are the people to whom the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, referred, and who probably include all of us in this House, the saving on fuel consumption will put money in their pockets, but for those who are at or near subsistence level—and this afternoon we have discovered what a very high number that is, because not all poor people are in receipt of extra payments—it means a small improvement in their living standards. For the old, as we have seen many times this winter, it can be a life-saving exercise. The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, intervened at the beginning of the debate to make that point.

The Government's cuts in grants for home insulation are therefore cruel and shortsighted because they hit those who are unable to do anything about better home heating. I know the answer that the noble Baroness will give, because she gave it earlier today, and I also know that those in the very greatest need will still be looked after, but there are a very large number of something like 11 million households which are on the borderline and they will be cut off from any help with home insulation.

The Secretary of State for Energy reiterated his commitment to energy conservation. How can that commitment be reconciled with the Government's cuts in insulation grants? It is very difficult to see the logic. I must also ask how this commitment can be reconciled with the intention to privatise energy supplies. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me for bringing in that subject this afternoon but it is something that has to be discussed. The incentive in privatisation (capitalism, if you like) in the energy industry is to sell more of the product for greater profit. Where does that leave conservation in energy supplies? I do not know whether the noble Baroness has an answer to that question.

I should like to come now to the question of the draft building regulations that are being discussed and to which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, quite rightly drew attention. I know it is not a very interesting subject to many of your Lordships and that it does not make the media headlines, but we must look at the standards that are being applied to new houses and new buildings generally if we are to make any inroads upon the state of our houses for the future. New building regulations are being discussed, and there is, I know, a consultative document. Many of the proposals in that document concern the upgrading of the thermal properties of new buildings, both residential and commercial, but there are flaws in the proposals, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has pointed out.

While the Government are pushing for improved standards, the draft regulations have a certain flexibility whereby a trade-off between various elements is allowed. There is an overall thermal efficiency target for the building, but within that target it is possible to choose the areas of the building that will be best insulated. The big danger is that one can use the changeable elements within the building; for example, double glazing can be set off against wall insulation. However, double glazing is a changeable element which need not be replaced when breakages occur or when there are other changes to the building. If that happens, the building then falls below the original standard set by the Government and becomes inefficient in those terms, even if it is accepted that the present standard set by the Government is sufficient, which is something that is also being questioned.

I suggest that changeable items should not be part of the trade-off regulations. Trade-off is also to be permitted between floors and roofs as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, mentioned. There is very little argument that roof insulation is more efficient than floor insulation. Floor insulation is valuable but roof insulation has a much greater effect on the temperature of the building. It would not therefore be very efficient if the builder met his requirements by insulating floors, which is cheaper and easier to do, and leaving the roof uninsulated. That too is a possibility under the draft regulations. Obviously, the larger the building, the greater the scope for trade-offs.

Commercial buildings are included in the regulations although they are subject to a lower standard, but large buildings which are designed, say, as homes for the elderly also come into that category and are subject to this wide possibility of trade-off, which needs to be controlled. There should be no loophole left for that kind of building and I hope that when the Government eventually come to printing these regulations, they will decide that this provision must be changed.

There is also the question of industrial buildings which are to be deregulated. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said quite a lot about that and I support everything that he said, particularly in relation to speculative building. Very often by the time such speculative buildings are sold, or indeed early in the life of buildings that have been sold for industrial purposes, they will come on the market and be put to a different use from that originally intended. We have to look at the Government's own wish to relax the planning controls regarding change of use on buildings. That is particularly relevant as regards the Government's proposed simplified planning zones. So far they have not been a problem because they have not yet come into existence, but they will do so in the course of this year. We could have a situation in the future in which buildings with heating standards that are totally inadequate, even by the standards which are proposed in the regulations, will not even meet the commercial standard, let alone the residential standard, which is a use to which they could be put.

To improve thermal insulation after a building has been completed is often difficult and is certainly much more expensive than providing adequate insulation when the building is being erected. We should expect good standards for all buildings whatever their alternative use is likely to be. I must ask the Government whether they have considered the effect on energy conservation of deregulating industrial buildings. Has any thought been given to that question, and has any possible calculation been done on what it might do to the energy conservation programme? Does the Department of Energy know what is proposed in the building regulations or, as so often happens in government departments, is this something which the Department of the Environment is doing off its own bat without any consultation with another department.

There are conflicts, contradictions and inefficiencies in the Government's whole approach to energy supply and conservation and, as always, the victims of muddled policies are those who are least able to fend for themselves. Today's debate has drawn atttention to some of the problems. We hope that the Government will give more coherent thought to the remedies than they appear to have done so far. Again, I thank my noble friend Lord Stallard for the opportunity to join the debate.

4.59 p.m.

My Lords, on these Benches, we, too, are most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, for tabling this Motion. The Government fully recognise the importance of the issues that it raises and we are grateful for the many ideas that have been advanced by noble Lords from all sides of the House in the course of today's debate.

The Motion is concerned with heating. But the important question is concerned with individuals and their ability to achieve an adequate standard of heating in their homes. Inevitably, in looking at individuals, our main concern must be with the elderly and other people in our society who are in need. Many noble Lords have underlined and emphasised that point.

The problems are complex. As has been said, a number of government departments are involved with them. The recent spell of severe weather has highlighted many of the issues. It is important to reassess them when we have the summer ahead of us to do a number of the things that need to be done. The Government are continuing to develop a strategy in that area. I shall breifiy mention the various developments and improvements taking place in many of the areas mentioned by noble Lords.

Before turning to issues, I must emphasise the energy improvements to the housing stock that have taken place since the Government came to power in 1979. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that the statistics are impressive. Some 6.3 million more homes have well insulated roofs; 2.2 million more have insulated hot water tanks; 1.8 million more have cavity wall insulation; 2.4 million more have double glazing; and 2.6 million more homes have central heating. This improvement has resulted from decisions made by landlords, whether from the private or public sectors, and individual owner-occupiers. It is important that they are aware of the opportunities and benefits. The Energy Efficiency Office which was set up by this Government provides advice and information on cost-effective energy efficiency measures which can be taken to improve the comfort levels of homes and reduce energy costs.

The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, referred to a number of projects that arose during Energy Efficiency Year. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, also referred to them. They both pointed out the important job creation aspects which can be a side effect of energy efficiency measures. I believe that the designation of 1986 as Energy Efficiency Year and the associated Monergy campaign represented the biggest ever campaign to provide energy efficiency advice and information as well as encouragement to domestic householders. The year was supported by the fuel industries, the energy efficiency industries, those in the field such as Neighbourhood Energy Action and the voluntary projects to which some noble Lords referred.

The Energy Efficiency Office's response material, including the free magazine Monergy News, gives full details of the assistance available for low income households. In addition, the office has arranged with Neighbourhood Energy Action for low income inquirers who use the Monergy Hotline, featured in the office's advertising, to be referred to it for details of voluntary insulation projects in their area. I am pleased to be able to tell noble Lords that that service continues into 1987. It did not come to an end at the conclusion of Energy Efficiency Year.

The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, spoke of the need for an urgent new national campaign. I submit that we are enjoying a continuing campaign. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy is preparing for the Select Committee on Energy a report on how Energy Efficiency Year has contributed to his long-term objective of helping the nation to eliminate the 20 per cent. of our national energy bill which we presently waste.

The subject of gas and electricity prices also arose early in the debate. They were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, and my noble friend Lord Ferrier. Since the last election, domestic gas and electricity prices have fallen in real terms, gas by 7 per cent. and electricity by 10 per cent. In real terms domestic gas now costs less than it did in 1970 and electricity less than it did in 1981. In cash terms, since the election the price of gas has increased by about 3 per cent. Under the Labour Government it rose four times as fast. Similarly, the increase for electricity has been about 2 per cent. a year. Under Labour it rose 11 times as fast. Electricity tariffs were reduced from November 1986 to take account of lower inflation forecasts, higher sales forecasts, improved efficiency in the industry and the 1986 price agreement between the CEGB and British Coal. The result was a price reduction of about 4·7 per cent. for the average domestic consumer.

I hope that that will reassure my noble friend Lord Ferrier. I can also assure him that electricity tariffs were in no way adjusted to meet the costs which the miners' strike caused the electricity supply industry. The domestic gas price increase of May 1986 averaged only 1·7 per cent., well below the prevailing rate of general inflation. This took account of a £1 reduction in the quarterly standing charge. The Government's record on that score is not at all bad.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, referred to the effects of gas privatisation. There is no reason to expect higher prices now that British Gas is a private sector company. Indeed, for the first time the domestic consumer is protected by a clearly established maximum price.

My Lords, I was not talking so much about the price as the conservation element and attempts to sell more of the product.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that correction. I wanted to make that point in case it was in people's minds that prices were going to be affected as a result. The conservation issue is also being taken seriously, and is a priority for consideration. Obviously we must keep an eye on things.

I shall also refer to the point about concessionary tariffs for low income consumers made by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard. Successive governments have concluded that concessionary fuel tariffs for selected groups are not an effective way of helping the less well off with their fuel bills. Such tariffs would waste resources by providing help to the many who were not in real need. We believe that the best way to help poorer consumers is through heating additions to supplementary benefit.

The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, raised the subject of housing and the amount of government spending. It is for local authorities to determine whether the heating systems and the insulation of their housing are adequate and within the financial resources available to them, and to balance the need for improvements against other competing priorities. Gross provision for capital expenditure by local authorities on housing in 1987–88 is £2,922 million, an increase of £390 million over the corresponding figure for 1986–87.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, also commented on the level of resources available to local authorities. I hope that what I have said reassures him somewhat. I am not sure from where he obtains his figure of £50 million for the annual expenditure on energy efficiency measures in local authority housing. He may be thinking of the additional allocation of £50 million to the department's Estate Action initiative. Some of the schemes promoted by Estate Action are designed to help energy efficiency, but local authorities will also be spending a great deal more within their own housing programmes.

The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and other noble Lords, mentioned fuel poverty and help for heating costs through the supplementary benefit scheme. The Government provide considerable help with heating costs for people receiving supplementary benefit. It is worth reiterating some of these schemes.

The most important assistance is the regular weekly help to all claimants through the scale rates which are intended to be used for all day-to-day expenses including fuel. Scale rates have increased by more than 6 per cent. in real terms since November 1978. Claimants who need to spend extra on heating, for example because of age or ill-health, get extra weekly payments known as heating additions. Expenditure on the additions in 1984–85 was some £400 million. The Government have introduced automatic entitlement to a number of heating additions to target help on those most likely to be in need of extra help with housing costs. The lower rate heating addition, worth £2.20 a week, is now payable to householders aged 65 or over, and to sick and disabled householders on the long-term scale rate. The higher rate heating addition, worth £5.55 per week, is payable to severely disabled people and to householders aged 85 or more.

However, I recognise that there are poor families who are not on supplementary benefit and do not qualify for heating additions. This is a difficulty but the Government believe it is right to concentrate available resources on those most in need and that it is best achieved through the supplementary benefit scheme. People with incomes above supplementary benefit levels are by definition less in need of help with heating costs. We do not believe that it would be the best use of available resources to spread them more thinly by extending entitlement to those who are above supplementary benefit levels.

My noble friend Lord Ferrier raised what became almost a mini debate in itself on the question of night storage heaters. He has given us the benefit of his experience in the past and in the Far East. I believe that the current design of storage heaters is more compact than earlier versions. The point may soon be reached when, for technical reasons, the size cannot be reduced any further. However, the choice of which appliance to use by the individual or landlord, depending on circumstances, must remain with those individuals.

Some electricity boards have instituted schemes such as Budget Warmth by which they install electric storage heating in the living room of a dwelling and provide heating throughout the winter period for a fixed weekly payment across the year. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Banks, referred to this matter and asked for further information. The noble Lord may be interested to know that the pilot scheme which was introduced by several electricity boards has worked closely with Neighbourhood Energy Action and other charities concerned with energy efficiency advice to low income households, and has proved extremely useful. The Department of Energy is looking at the result of the pilot scheme with a view to deciding whether wider application may be appropriate.

Many noble Lords voiced the opinion, quite rightly, that new homes and building regulations were an area where a great deal of effort must be made because the results should be worthwhile. Indeed, the noble Viscount, Lord Hansorth, concentrated on this point. The building regulations have a contribution to make to any strategy for conservation of fuel and power. It is some years since the standards of insulation in the regulations were raised. However, we have, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, recently set out the proposals for change. The proposals are part of the second stage of the review of building regulations.

Noble Lords may know that the regulations were recast in simplified form in 1985. The main regulations are much shorter. The technical detail is largely contained in supporting documents. In the second stage of the review we are revising the technical content of the regulations and the supporting documents. The proposals are set out in a consultation document which was issued on 15th December, 1986. There is a copy of this consultation document in the Library for any noble Lord who may not have already seen it. The consultation is still in progress and I shall ensure that account is taken of the comments made by noble Lords, and in particular that of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, about a mimimum standard for industrial and storage building.

The consultation paper includes proposals for raising insulation standards. For any noble Lord who is technically minded I can say that that means that the maximum "u" values are to be lowered. I am told that the value is an assessment of thermal transfer through a material. The lower the "u" value the greater the insulation. The proposals in the paper is that for dwellings the "u" value for walls should be lowered from 0.6 to 0.45, and for roofs from 0.35 to 0.25. A new standard for ground or exposed floors would be introduced. That is 0.45. But the consultation paper envisages greater flexibility. The intention is that designers and builders should have more choice in the way they meet the requirements so long as the overall standard is achieved.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, suggested that it might be possible to take this flexibility to the extreme of actually omitting roof insulation altogether. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, was suggesting the same possibility for double glazing. I can assure both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that it would be a very unusual house indeed which could achieve the standards suggested in the new regulations without having roof insulation and double glazing.

Those regulations apply to both the public and the private sector. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, raised the point about home insulation grants and home improvement grants in particular in the private sector houses. Houses and flats improved or provided with the aid of home improvement grant must have adequate heating facilities under the so-called "Ten Point Standard". This will continue to be a requirement of any simplified target standards as proposed in last year's Green Paper. We have also encouraged local authorities to be helpful to the elderly by making home improvement grants available for better heating facilities and for the provision of central heating in purpose-built old people's dwellings. Improvement grants can also be made available for other types of insulation work such as draught-proofing and wall insulation if that work forms part of a comprehensive scheme of improvement.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, suggested that we were withdrawing an incentive for encouraging more insulation at the wrong moment by introducing the new scheme which was announced by my honourable friend in December last year. However, loft insulation is cheap and very cost effective. That is why the Government have supported it by the grant system. People have had eight years to take advantage of the scheme. Our extensive publicity should have, and I believe has, brought to the attention of all householders with adequate means the cost effectiveness of installing or improving their loft insulation. They have their money back very quickly. They receive a pay back in, I believe, two to three years. The proposed new scheme will assist those who do not have the means by increasing the total amount of the grant available to 90 per cent. It must therefore be sensible to concentrate help on the people who most need it.

My Lords, as the Minister is dealing with the new scheme, may I recall that I raised two very important points which it would appear that the Minister does not desire to touch upon. One was that people involved in the building industry say that the new scheme will result in a substantial shortfall in their workload compared with last year. I also asked specifically about people who had already made an application under the old scheme during the recent cold spell. Will they qualify under the old scheme for the grant that, at the time, they were led to believe would be available to them?

My Lords, I was coming to that point, but I am happy to deal with it now as the old scheme is still in operation. The announcement which was made in December said that the change would take place "next year", meaning this year. My right honourable friend will lay a scheme before Parliament under the negative order procedure. Therefore, the point made by the noble Lord that there might be a rush of applications for the existing grant was quite timely. There is the interim period during which they are able to submit their applications under the old scheme, but, at the moment, I am unable to tell him the cut-off date.

I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Dean, felt unable to accept the figures which I quoted during Question Time concerning the effectiveness of the existing programme on roof insulation. I believe that nearly 90 per cent. of accessible roofs in England are now insulated. The noble Lord, Lord Dean, has given other figures, and other noble Lords have referred to conflicting figures. Of course, I shall look into those figures to be certain that we are all speaking of the same thing.

Many useful and helpful suggestions have been made and I fear I am being overtaken by time. Nevertheless, as a number of noble Lords raised the matter, I shall refer to the single payments for draught-proofing which are made by the DHSS to recipients of supplementary benefit and which are due for abolition under the social security review in April 1988. I reassure noble Lords by saying that the DHSS has made a public commitment that alternative arrangements will be made and these are currently under consideration with the Department of Energy and the Department of the Environment. Therefore, the matter is not lost; it will be dealt with.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has given us some reassurance on this very important point, but will she give any indication of when the changed arrangements will be announced? As I mentioned, in the case of Neighbourhood Energy Action, unless we know by October or November, we shall, in all prudence, have to start running down the programme, and that would be very serious.

My Lords, I cannot give a date for any announcement on the subject. I can only say that consideration has been given to the matter since the Statement was made last year. I believe that we are close to the time when a decision might be made regarding the alternative arrangements.

The Government welcome the effect which the voluntary sector is having in this area, particularly the work of the Neighbourhood Energy Action scheme to which the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, and the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, have drawn our attention.

Regarding exceptionally cold weather payments, I stress that those payments form only a very small part of the total help with heating costs which is given through the supplementary benefit scheme. In 1984–85, expenditure on heating additions was some £400 million but the amount spent on exceptionally severe weather payments was just £1.7 million.

The new system of exceptionally cold weather payments which came into operation on 11th December, 1986, concentrates help on those most at risk from the cold. Those eligible, subject to the normal £500 rule on savings, are supplementary benefit households containing someone who is aged 65 or over, under two, or chronically sick and disabled. Payments can be made in any local office area where the average temperature, recorded at a designated weather station on a fixed seven-day period, falls to freezing point or less.

The Government believe that the new scheme is easier to understand, that it is simple to operate and that it more fairly directs help to those most in need. As all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate have said that it is important to direct funds to those most in need, I trust that the scheme is welcomed.

The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, said that we have the coldest houses in Europe. The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, also made an international comparison, as did the noble Lord, Lord Banks. My noble friend Lord Belhaven gave some of the answers, one of which was to dress more warmly and, in an intervention, it was suggested that we should eat proper food. There is evidence that the seasonal excess mortality is greater in England than in some other countries which have severer climates. The reasons for this are not clear. Happily, the position has improved in recent years, but central heating does not seem to be the crucial factor. This is a complex matter and I assure noble Lords that it is very much under consideration.

I realise that I have not answered all the questions raised by noble Lords and I shall consider the matter further after reading Hansard. However, the strategy which we are developing means that the energy efficiency of the housing stock is improving steadily. In the majority of homes, the decision to make further improvement lies with individual owner occupiers. The Government's main responsibility here is to make sure that they have advice on the cost effectiveness of measures and this is provided by the Energy Efficiency Office. But we also need to be concerned about those, in all tenures, who are unable, for whatever reason, to make improvements themselves. In the public sector, the main responsibility lies with local authority or housing association landlords. In the private sector, the responsibilities and opportunities for providing help where this is needed is more difficult. However, I hope that I have convinced the noble Lords of the Government's concern.

This has been a most useful and informative debate. I should like to thank all noble Lords who have contributed to it.

My Lords, it only remains for me to thank all noble Lords who have participated in making this such an interesting and constructive debate. There is urgent need to find solutions to some very serious problems that could affect millions of our people, their well-being and their quality of life.

I should also like to thank the noble Baroness for her reply, particularly those parts with which I could agree—and there were some. I was slightly perturbed about her advice to people who could not keep warm or whose homes were too cold, which was simply to wear more clothes and eat more food. It reminds me of the fellow who was told to take longer steps to save shoe leather; I do not think the advice was exactly appropriate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.