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Energy: Light Bulbs

Volume 707: debated on Thursday 29 January 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their position on the phasing out of 100- and 75-watt traditional light bulbs.

My Lords, incandescent light bulbs waste 95 per cent of the energy that they use as heat. Phasing them out and replacing them with efficient alternatives can help to reduce emissions and energy bills. We are pleased that UK retailers and energy suppliers are voluntarily phasing out these lamps before European rules are introduced later this year.

My Lords, is my noble friend as incandescent as I am about the reduced brightness of these new lamps, which make life difficult for those with poor eyesight, about the poorer quality of the light, which renders the world a grey ineffectiveness, and about the concerns about safety associated with mercury release? Just who made these decisions and where were they made? Indeed, just how many politicians did it take to change a light-bulb policy?

My Lords, it takes one Member of your Lordships’ House to change a light bulb and 712 to debate the matter for endless hours. Of course, I understand the point that my noble friend raises, particularly about partially sighted people. We have been in, and are happy to continue, discussions with the RNIB and other organisations. Overall, the technology and quality of the new bulbs have improved enormously. For partially sighted people, there is the alternative of halogen look-alike bulbs.

My Lords, will the Minister explain how it makes sense for the European Union to ban mercury thermometers because mercury is a health hazard but, at the same time, to force us to use these low-energy light bulbs, which have a great deal more mercury than mercury thermometers?

My Lords, the noble Lord is not right on that. There is a small amount of mercury in the CFL lamps, but my understanding is that it is 1,500 times less than the amount in mercury thermometers.

My Lords, there may be more of them, but the element of hazardous waste is much smaller. As for the mercury processed in manufacturing, if you put the two together, there will be less mercury that comes out.

My Lords, given the pollutants within compact fluorescent lights, are the Government actively looking at safer alternatives, such as LED lights?

Yes, my Lords, there appears to be great potential in LED lights, not just because they do not need to use mercury, but because potentially they have a very much longer life even than the new energy-efficient lights. Researchers in the UK are very much involved in leading the field and we very much hope that we can see the new technology come on to the market within the next few years.

My Lords, perhaps I should start by saying how much we support the Government’s move in changing to these new light bulbs, which must be one of the most positive moves that they have made recently on combating climate change. Has the Minister had any complaints from noble Lords about energy-saving light bulbs, considering that the Palace of Westminster has moved to energy-saving light bulbs as far as it can and has saved 61 per cent of its energy costs? Indeed, this Chamber is lit by energy-saving light bulbs—a fact that seems to have eluded most noble Lords. I know that certain noble Lords have difficulty with their eyesight, but I have not heard any complaints. Does the Minister agree that this should be shown as a shining example of the value of energy-saving light bulbs?

My Lords, having heard the question from the Lib Dem Benches, I wonder whether the Minister is happy that the Government are carrying the British people with them on this issue. I have heard of noble Lords bulk-buying incandescent bulbs for the future. Do the energy-saving figures include the fact that, given the Newtonian physics of light bulbs, the heat lost through changing to the new type of bulbs means that people are spending more on heating their homes?

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord’s question but, when we debate climate change in a few moments, the Government will no doubt come under criticism from the Benches opposite for not taking enough action. It is disappointing that the noble Lord is not prepared to support what has been a widely progressive measure. On the question, of course there are balances to be drawn, such as in balancing the environmental impact at the manufacturing stage with the energy saved when the bulbs are in use. There may be other balances. Overall, I have no doubt whatever that this not only reduces the use of energy but saves on householders’ bills.

My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships’ House is pleased to hear that the Government are talking to RNIB, but will the Minister give us more detail on the Government’s proposals to accommodate the very elderly or those with genuine sight problems, who will be seriously disadvantaged and perhaps cut off entirely from the ability to read in the absence of the present light bulbs? I have a dual interest to declare. My mother is in her 90s and has difficulty reading; she has already expressed worry and concern to me about this development. I am also president of the Peterborough Association for the Blind.

My Lords, I am sorry that any person should feel concerned about the changeover, but I repeat the point that I have just made: halogen look-alike lamps may be used as an alternative.