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House of Lords Hansard
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25 February 2020
Volume 802

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to insulate existing housing in order to contribute to (1) ending fuel poverty, and (2) achieving net zero carbon emissions.

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My Lords, the energy company obligation is our main domestic energy efficiency policy. It is worth £640 million a year and is focused on fuel poverty. This year, we will announce further policies to upgrade the energy performance of our homes, which will address fuel poverty and support the transition to net zero.

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My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, to his new position as Minister for Energy. It is estimated that, if we had each of the 29 million households in this country with an energy performance certificate rating of A or B—which we would like to—we would save something like the energy from six Hinkley Points and abolish fuel poverty at a stroke. Does he feel that that is a good policy and focus?

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I thank the noble Lord for his good wishes. It is nice to answer questions on something other than EU withdrawal for a change. I take on board the noble Lord’s concerns. He makes a very good point. As I said, we will be announcing further policies in this field in the Budget and in the forthcoming energy White Paper. He will understand that I cannot predict what might be announced at those times.

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My Lords, it is fantastic to hear that the Government will have another policy. I welcome the noble Lord to his new post—I am sure that we will confront each other about this quite a lot. It is not just about having policies but having the funding in place. Will we see some funding for this in the Budget?

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I thank the noble Baroness for her best wishes. I am sure that confronting is not the right word. Working together for the common goal would be more appropriate—you have to start out optimistically. There were funding commitments in the Conservative manifesto. As I said earlier, we will set out the details of that funding in the Budget and the energy White Paper.

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My Lords, in welcoming the Minister to his new post, I remind him that we are now supposed to save energy wherever we can under the Paris climate accord. Can he tell the House why new builders are allowed to build traditional homes? Why do they not have photovoltaic panels or tiles on the roof so that every building generates electricity?

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The noble Baroness makes a good point about building standards. That is something we will seek to address. There have been tremendous improvements over recent years in building standards and quality; the issue is the relative cost of installing all these measures in new homes, and the price that will be reflected. However, as I said, she makes a good point; it is something that we will need to look at.

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My Lords, I would like to add a third part to the Question: what plans do the Government have to protect existing housing against flooding?

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Given the recent horrible news from many parts of the country, particularly in the north, the noble Lord makes a very good point.

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My Lords, will my noble friend agree to look into why it is that, if you switch a house from oil-fired to gas-fired central heating, its energy performance certificate gets worse, not better? It is a perverse system in the regulations. I declare my interest as a landlord.

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It does sound like a particularly perverse incentive. I will certainly look into the reasons why and write to my noble friend.

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My Lords, the Government already have ambitious targets for improving home energy efficiency, so 10 days ago I introduced a Bill simply to put those targets into legislation and give the home energy efficiency industry the certainty that it needs. The noble Lord, Lord Duncan, said that the Government could not support my Bill because it would cut across their plans for strategies and a route map. Yesterday, the Energy Minister in the other place told people at a Sustainable Energy Association reception, “We tend not to support Private Members’ Bills when we are going to legislate for the same things.” Which excuse is right?

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I notice that my noble friend Lord Duncan is watching the performance today. I will certainly not disagree with what he told the House. As I said, there will be a number of upcoming announcements in this field. I cannot at this stage predict what they will be, but I am sure that the noble Lord will be pleased when he hears them.

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My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his new post. Can he share with the House any thinking in the forthcoming White Paper that will ensure that the cost of cutting carbon and retrofitting will not fall unevenly on the poorer people in our society, who are already suffering from fuel poverty and will need all the help they can get?

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The noble Baroness makes an extremely good point. As she will be aware, the ECO scheme is funded from fuel bills. If we increase funding for the ECO scheme for poorer households, that puts up the cost of bills for all customers. That is one of the points we need to address; her point is well made.

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My Lords, I too welcome the Minister to his new post—and his new collaborative approach. However, he still manages to miss the point. He said that the ECO scheme was the main weapon for tackling fuel poverty, but it has failed to do that and to meet what is necessary on home heating to tackle climate change. Has the time not now come—I hope that he will raise this with the Chancellor—for the restoration of a tax-funded intervention for the nearly 4 million homes that are suffering particularly from lack of insulation and failed heating systems? This was dropped 10 years ago; it now needs to be restored.

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I am, of course, always happy to work collaboratively with the noble Lord, but I point out gently that he is not correct to say that the ECO scheme has failed. The latest fuel poverty statistics show that the aggregate fuel poverty gap is falling year on year. We can always argue that we need to make faster progress, but the scheme is a success and it is working to bring down fuel poverty.