Energy Conservation

Part of Orders of the Day — Electricity Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 6th April 1989.

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Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce , Gordon 5:30 pm, 6th April 1989

I have tabled an amendment calling for a deputy director of conservation.

It is my view and that of my colleagues that that issue ought to be at the heart of the debate about the Bill. It is very unfortunate that we have been diverted into a debate about nuclear power which, although interesting, has allowed the Government to avoid confronting the fundamental issue of how we can use energy much more efficiently.

Our record of energy efficiency is extremely poor compared with that of our competitors. It is difficult to understand why, given the number of times that Ministers have come to the Dispatch Box and claimed that they are in favour of conservation, we have fallen so far short of the objectives declared by the Government to be both achievable and desirable and to which they are committed. It is something that we really ought to take on board.

For example, in 1986 the Prime Minister opened the Milton Keynes energy week. She said that Britain's total fuel bill was £35 billion, which could be reduced by £7 billion. The Secretary of State for Energy tells us that the energy bill is £39 billion and could be reduced by £8 billion. In other words, nothing has changed except the figures, which have, in both cases, gone up. We have failed to achieve any significant move towards the reduction in energy use that the Government say they want to achieve and which they believe can be achieved.

I suspect that the reason is that the Government believe that it is not their responsibility, that the market will solve the problem and that it is up to everyone except the Government to take appropriate action. Given that this is one area where the Government and my colleagues and I share common ground, the Bill should have been seen as an opportunity. The common ground that we share is a complete dissatisfaction with the way in which the industry has been run over the past 10 or 15 years. It has been centralised and inefficient. It has over-invested. It has been generation-biased in the extreme; its response to forecasts of rising demand has been the desire to build more power stations instead of asking how it can ensure that the demand can be met with the existing capacity, because the technology exists to do that.

The irony—I may be giving the Minister the lead to his reply—is that it is cost-effective to invest less money to achieve greater profitability. It is true—I have some common ground with the Government on this—that the industry in the public sector has manifestly failed to grasp that issue, but I part company with the Government in that I believe that they can and should do a great deal more, and that the Director General of Electricity Supply should have been—and would be, if our amendments were carried—charged with a specific responsibility to promote energy conservation.

Significant benefits will flow from energy conservation. The first benefit is environmental. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, investment in energy efficiency and conservation is seven times more effective than nuclear power in abating global warming. I do not believe that the Government will get very much mileage from suggesting that their nuclear programme is a contribution to dealing with the greenhouse effect. It is irrelevant. The programme, as promoted in the current state of the electricity supply industry and as endorsed by the Government as their future direction, will, in fact, lead to a 20 per cent. increase in carbon dioxide emissions from the United Kingdom by the end of the century.

It has already been stated that the original reasons for introducing energy conservation were financial and were connected with the oil crisis of the 1970s. At the risk of boring the House, I would point out that I wrote a pamphlet in 1979 in which I stated the environmental benefits and urged action to be taken. I regret to say that nothing has changed. My pamphlet is just as relevant today. The problems are even more severe, and no action has been taken to confront the issue.