Some 480,000 low-income homes had been insulated under the community insulation programme up to the end of March 1988. Around a further 125,000 homes will have been insulated by the end of the current financial year.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. It is good to know that progress has been made. The Government should be congratulated on this programme on two counts as it both helps people on low income and assists in saving energy.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his congratulations. My hon. Friend will recall, not least because he represents the city where the headquarters of the former Manpower Services Commission were located, that the programme was introduced by the Government through the Manpower Services Commission. As a result, the people to whom my hon. Friend referred have been helped.
Mr. Robert Hughes:
Is the Minister aware of the organisation in Aberdeen known as SCARF—"Save Costs and Reduce Fuel"—which has done an excellent job in assisting low-income families to insulate their houses? Is he further aware that that organisation is facing some difficulties in getting its funding renewed? Will he therefore speak to the Secretary of State for Scotland and do all that he can to ensure that SCARF is able to continue its excellent, first-class work?
To be honest I am not totally aware of the particular organisation to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The hon. Gentleman will be aware, however, that when I had principal responsibility for the programme I was in contact with all the voluntary organisations involved. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has recently changed the upper limit to £40, which I believe will improve the potential of the programme.
First, I endorse what the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) has said because SCARF also operates in my constituency and I believe that its work should continue. Does the Minister accept that self-congratulation is not in order when in reality the programme has been cut by the Government and the budget of the energy efficiency office has not just been cut but is to be further cut within the next two or three years? Does the Minister agree that if the Government are serious about energy efficiency it is time that they brought in a comprehensive programme to ensure that the targets that they claim to support can be met?
The hon. Gentleman uses the word "target", and that is exactly what the Government have done for the whole range of efficiency measures. We have targeted them on the areas where they will be most productive and the people who are most in need.
Does the Minister agree that if the Government are to make a reasonable contribution to reducing raw energy demand without affecting people's comfort he will need to do something rather more dramatic in consultation with his colleagues at the Department of Employment to see that the rules are sufficiently relaxed to facilitate the programmes in England and Wales covered by Neighbourhood Energy Action? The NEA is based in Newcastle but covers major cities where, up until Christmas, it was expected that in 1989 the number of people employed on draught proofing and neighbourhood insulation schemes for low-income households would fall to one eighth of the level in 1988.
If the hon. Gentleman talked to Neighbourhood Energy Action he would find that it has welcomed the initiative taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, but principally by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, to cover the very point raised by the hon. Gentleman. We must now see whether that initiative works through the system in the ways that both the hon. Gentleman and I would like to see.