Oral Answers to Questions — Communities and Local Government – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 27th November 2007.
What support her Department has considered to assist councils that wish to introduce measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change.
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The local government White Paper, published by my Department, sets out the framework for local authorities to take action on climate change, and we are putting in place a number of initiatives to support it, including new performance indicators to help local authorities to measure progress on carbon reduction, and information and guidance for local authorities on climate change mitigation measures. We have also included climate change as a theme in the current round of the beacon council scheme.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that extensive answer. I am sure that she agrees that it is the poorest people who can least afford energy-saving devices such as energy-saving light bulbs. Will she ensure that local authorities have the resources and the necessary money to target those poor people to ensure that they have the chance to get loft insulation, cavity wall insulation, energy-saving light bulbs and things like that?
My hon. Friend has an excellent record on highlighting such issues in the House. I can give him a couple of examples of local authorities doing exactly the kind of the thing that he outlines. Kirklees has a warm zone plus scheme, whereby loft and cavity wall insulation is being installed for free, on a systematic house-by-house basis. People get a personal visit and it is hoped to put cavity wall insulation into 40,000 homes. Leicester has a hot lofts scheme, in partnership with British Gas and Mark Insulations. An area is selected using thermal imaging to see where the most energy is escaping, and the homes are then targeted. The provision is free, irrespective of income.
Will the Secretary of State clear up the confusion created by her Ministers and officials about whether local authorities are free to implement the so-called Merton rule? When the question of whether they are free to do so is asked in the House, it is always met with the answer, "Yes." But officials always meet it with the answer, "No." Is it not time that she told the House clearly whether authorities are free to implement the rule and whether she welcomes more local authorities taking the rule on board and tackling climate change effectively at a local level?
I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman is confused, so I shall try to be as clear as possible. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing has written to all our stakeholders on this matter. Yes, we can implement the Merton rule, but we want to go further. However, that has to be properly tested through the planning process. That is absolutely clear. We want to press on with our commitments to reduce carbon emissions and we have one of the most ambitious programmes: to get all new homes to be zero carbon by 2016. The Merton rule is a valuable contribution, but we want to go even further.
The private rented sector is quite problematic with regard to climate change and energy efficiency. Will my right hon. Friend work with local authorities to make sure that they are given powers to work with and, in the final analysis, to compel private landlords to raise their properties to minimum acceptable standards for energy efficiency?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Sometimes it is the poorest people who live in the most difficult conditions in the private rented sector. It is important that local authorities have powers to work with landlords in relation to licensing and accreditation, to make sure that the highest standards are available. He will also be aware of our intention to pursue energy performance certificates in the private rented sector, which will be of considerable assistance.
Local authorities are required to have made a 30 per cent. reduction in energy use in residential homes by 2011, but the latest figures show that many local authorities, including my authority of Westminster, are trailing well behind that. Will my right hon. Friend work with her colleagues in DEFRA to consider step-in powers, which are available to the Government, to ensure that local authorities that are not raising their game on residential home efficiency do so?
My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point. She will know that in the new local government performance framework, for the first time, there are indicators in relation to climate change. In those areas where we really need to make a difference, we will be able to incorporate those indicators into the local area agreement. There will be measuring and monitoring, and the local authorities concerned will be pressed to have some pretty stretching targets. I hope that a number of local authorities will use climate change as one of their central areas in their local area agreement.