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Energy Efficiency

Part of Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 3:39 pm on 30th June 2010.

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Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Labour, Brent North 3:39 pm, 30th June 2010

My hon. Friend is entirely right, and the example that he gives illustrates the extent of the gap opening up between our generation capacity and our predicted levels of consumption. I hope that he will pursue that point, perhaps in his own remarks later this afternoon.

Of course, the best way to manage this shortfall in supply is to engineer a corresponding shortfall in demand. That is where energy efficiency is critical, and I was delighted that the Minister of State with responsibility for energy efficiency visited the Mark Group's home energy efficiency academy earlier this month to welcome their 1,000th graduate-Shaun, I believe his name was. The academy is exactly the sort of resource that we need if we are to make sure that our small and medium-sized construction enterprises have the skills that they need to retrofit insulation to all the UK's housing stock.

I trust that the Minister will acknowledge the fact that the Mark Group academy was set up in November 2007 as part of the Labour Government's green homes initiative. In fact, Bill Rumble, the Mark Group director, said at the time:

"We welcome the Prime Minister's"- that is our Prime Minister, not the Conservative party's Prime Minister-

"environment plans as a real step in the right direction in the task of arresting climate change and reducing the UK's carbon emissions.

The Mark Group agrees with Gordon Brown's assertion that the UK can take a global lead in tackling climate change and in doing so generating thousands of jobs."

I do not wish to detract from the Government's green deal; indeed, I applaud it. We need to accelerate the work of insulating the millions of homes without adequate loft insulation, and the millions of homes without cavity wall insulation. However, I would simply make two points. It is all very well to celebrate the 1,000th graduate trainee, but it sits uneasily with the abolition of the Train to Gain programme, which helped small construction and other companies to acquire precisely such skills, and to equip themselves and their workers for the green jobs of the future.

The second point is that it makes no sense to ask householders to improve the energy efficiency of their homes at the same time as increasing the cost of doing so by 2.5%. I challenge the Secretary of State to show that deep inside his new Teflon Tory exterior there is still a limp Liberal longing to get out-to show us that the Liberal pledge before the election not to raise VAT was more than just the point scoring that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has claimed it was. I ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to speak to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. The latter is another Liberal, and is, I think, the Member with the longest constituency name-Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey. After yesterday's oration to the House, he is also the Member with the shortest political credibility. They should agree to reduce VAT on the materials and labour used for increasing the energy efficiency of domestic properties. That would make a real difference. If the VAT on such work was 5% instead of 20%, that would go a tremendous way towards incentivising householders and other property owners to make sure that they do the necessary work.

If the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change will not do that, rolling out smart meters in every home; piloting pay-as-you-save and ways to make homes greener; introducing clean energy cashback schemes; and making the UK a centre of green industry-all that-is just so much recycling of the stated policy of the last Government, as set out in the "The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan", published in July last year. The truth is that approximately 90% of what Ministers have announced in their green deal comes from that document. No wonder earlier this month the Department issued a YouTube video entitled "Chris Huhne launches Wind Week".

Today, the Committee on Climate Change released its second annual report on progress towards a low-carbon economy. The committee makes it clear that we can deliver on our commitment to reduce emissions by at least 34% by 2020, but only if we accelerate our roll-out of renewables and effect a step change in domestic energy efficiency. So let me welcome the Secretary of State's remarks today, in which he said:

"we mustn't rely on economic recession to cut emissions."

I agree. He continued:

"There has to be an enduring shift to low carbon...locked into the fabric of our economy in good times and bad."

I commend to him "A Woodfuel Strategy for England". After a very modest investment of about £16 million-million, not billion-a year for only seven years, it would show net benefits of approximately £30 million a year in energy cost savings, and would save 400,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions. More than that, it would improve the biodiversity of our woodland heritage by cropping, lopping and clearing deadwood from under-managed woodland. The equivalent of 250,000 homes could be heated for a net £30 million benefit per annum, and the reinvigoration of our broadleaf woodlands-a truly efficient ecosystem-based solution. I hope the Minister will speak to his colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and implement this strategy as part of his green deal.

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