As well as supporting the continuing expansion of community insulation projects, which have now insulated more than 300,000 homes, my Department continues actively to promote the cost-effective energy efficiency measures which all householders should take to benefit from reduced fuel bills.
Is it not rather an odd way to celebrate Energy Efficiency Year by removing loft insulation grants from millions of householders? Is the Minister aware that more than half our households have inadequte loft insulation, even by current standards? Is he aware that 12·5 million households lack effective draught-proofing and that 10·5 million households lack cavity wall insulation? What new measures will the Government introduce to deal with the backlog?
The hon. Gentleman is distorting the position. He should be aware that on 19 December my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction announced that he would make available up to a further £1·5 million of resources, which is being distributed to councils in England which had exhausted their present allocations. But with nearly 90 per cent. of accessible roofs in England insulated, the Minister decided to concentrate the scheme's assistance on those who have most difficulty in affording the cost of loft insulation. Therefore, he announced that he would be introducing a new scheme, withdrawing the general grant of 66 per cent., but extending the availability of the more generous 90 per cent. grant to all householders who received housing benefit or supplementary benefit.
I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would realise that that change will assist greatly families with low incomes for whom it is most important to gain the maximum possible benefit from the money that they spend on heating their homes.
Although I congratulate my hon. Friend on the success of the recent neighbourhood energy action week, does he accept that there is anxiety about the delay in the anouncement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services of a replacement for the single payments scheme? Will he exert pressure on the Secretary of State for the Environment to include draught-proofing in any future home insulation scheme, as that is the best way to help elderly people to overcome problems such as those they experienced in the recent cold spell?
I shall mention my hon. Friend's comments to my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State, but the Government have given a clear undertaking to the House that adequate arrangements will be made to enable those important projects to continue after the social security reforms. Opposition Members should realise that the Government's programme of insulating low-income households dwarfs anything that existed when the Labour party was in power.
Is the Minister aware that those involved in the industry regard with disbelief the statement that 90 per cent. of lofts in Britain have been insulated? Will he disclose the figures on which the Government have based that statement? May I add my voice to those who urge that any money that is proposed to be saved on the loft insulation programme should be used to draught-proof the homes of those on social security benefit?
I repeat what I said, that nearly 90 per cent. of accessible roofs in England are now insulated. It is right to concentrate resources on those who need the greatest help. They are getting the greatest help under this Government.
I know that my hon. Friend is aware of the relative inefficiency of the insulation of most of our homes. To what extent is the Department of Energy co-operating in sharing a common budget with the Department of Employment, the housing department within the Department of the Environment and the Department of Industry, and not leaving the matter only to the poor old DHSS?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress the fact that Government support for the community insulation project is coming from a range of Government Departments. That support is now worth £30 million a year. We shall continue to intensify it, with 360 of these groups already established, 180 more planned and with a target of more than 500 groups operating by the early part of next year.