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Energy Efficiency

Part of Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 6:40 pm on 30th June 2010.

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Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change) 6:40 pm, 30th June 2010

It is a great honour to close this debate for my party from the Dispatch Box, and this is the first time that I have done so. For many people the debate will be memorable not necessarily for my contribution, but for what will have flashed into their minds and been difficult to get rid of-that is, the picture of the Minister of State, Gregory Barker, hoovering his carpets wearing less than an apron. However, it is clear from the debate that, although there is broad agreement throughout the House about where we need to get to, there is much disagreement about how we get there.

Historically, energy efficiency has not been Britain's No. 1 priority, with its temperate climate and plentiful supplies of fuel, whether wood, coal, gas or oil. Therefore, for far too long we have put up with, and built too many, draughty houses. As Martin Horwood said in his thoughtful contribution, we have to change the way in which we build houses. Times have changed and Britain has to change, too. Energy prices have increased massively, and now we have a choice: we can either invest in a low-carbon economy using renewable sources of energy, or wait for the gas to run out. Neither option is cheap, although the latter also comes at the price of creating man-made, irreversible climate change. In the UK, 13% of our greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the way in which we heat our homes, but the inevitable increasing cost of fuel bills has, and will continue to, put great strains on the incomes of the poorest households.

People fully understand the urgency of the matter, and in meetings in my constituency I have spoken to people in their 80s and to children as young as five about the importance of ensuring that we insulate our homes and address fuel poverty. I suspect that the passion that I have developed for the issue has come from listening and learning from the people whom I represent, and today we have heard a number of passionate and inspirational maiden speeches from people who clearly have a great love for their constituencies.

We heard from Richard Drax, who, after congratulating Lord Jim Knight on his ennoblement, spoke of the great beauty of his constituency. He also told us of his six ancestors who have been Members. It seems that one of them spoke only once in 32 years, and we hope that the hon. Gentleman does not follow in that tradition.

Lorraine Fullbrook is the first woman to represent her area, and she paid tribute to her predecessor, David Borrow, and in particular his work in relation to HIV sufferers. We learned that South Ribble is the home of Chicago town pizzas, as well as Leyland and some large bird sanctuaries, and I have no doubt that she will be a very effective voice for South Ribble in Westminster.

We heard also from Tessa Munt, who eschewed tradition and decided to be controversial by claiming that her constituency was the most beautiful in Britain. She also took on the National Grid and certainly seems to have a strong campaigning spirit and steel.

Talking of strong campaigning spirit and steel, I should note that Ms Bagshawe also made it clear that, although she is in favour of nuclear power and onshore wind, she is not in favour of them in her constituency. As my hon. Friend Nia Griffith said, Government Front Benchers could consider putting some large solar panels in Corby instead.

Jim Shannon explained that, although he was a Unionist, he could in some circumstances feel comfortable talking about green politics. He described his beautiful constituency and reminded me of many visits that I and my family have taken to that extraordinary area. I was reminded, in particular, of Castle Ward, which also made me think of the coalition. Castle Ward is a very odd building, because one half is classic Georgian and the other Strawberry Hill gothic. It is up to Members to decide which bit represents which political party. Anyway, one particular marriage at Castle Ward was doomed, and the woman went back to Scotland after only a few months, so perhaps there is a lesson to be learned there.

We heard also from Members who have a large amount of experience, and their contributions were profound and very important. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli spoke of the cuts in funding to the Welsh Assembly and the impact that they might have on the Welsh boiler scrappage scheme and the Warm Front scheme. My hon. Friend Meg Munn spoke about the feed-in tariff threshold and called for it to apply to 3 kW appliances.

We also heard from my hon. Friend Barry Gardiner, who spoke passionately about how climate change had become his political priority. He strongly urged the Government to reduce VAT on energy-efficiency measures. I understand that the number of interventions during the speech made by Mr Ellwood is a record. My hon. Friend Thomas Docherty made a knowledgeable contribution about the power station in his constituency and the bid for carbon capture and storage. He asked the Minister to make a decision about when the competition was going to happen.

David Morris was burnishing his pro-nuclear and anti-onshore-wind credentials; I suspect that he will make a friend of Luciana Berger made a plea for energy-efficient windows, while Sarah Newton promoted ground source heat pumps, which are made in her constituency. My hon. Friend Chris Williamson asked the Chancellor to think again, as we all do. Meanwhile, Caroline Lucas made a wide-ranging and well informed speech, calling particularly for mandatory minimum standards of insulation. Her contribution will be taken seriously beyond the House.

Much of what the previous Government did on energy efficiency has had broad support from this place, and I am proud of the progress that we made. It began particularly with the Climate Change Act 2008, which, ironically, will be seen as one of Labour's greatest achievements only if the coalition Government take seriously the attendant low-carbon transition plans and the carbon budget. Lord Turner, the Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, said on the "Today" programme this morning, "The last Government set out a series of policies. As long as we drive those through, we will make a difference." I was reassured to hear from one with as profound an understanding as my hon. Friend Dr Whitehead that the CCC's report recognises the Government's achievements.

It is important that we cut our household-sector emissions. That is an important part of the plan; we expect to cut them by 29%. In furtherance of that goal, we insulated 5 million homes and, building on that, went on to introduce the carbon emissions reduction target, or CERT. The Government's reconfirmation of the decision to extend CERT to December 2012 is greatly to be welcomed; I am grateful to have heard that from the Minister in his opening speech.

The next question is about the community energy saving programme, or CESP, which focused on household energy efficiency in poor areas and worked on a house-by-house, street-by-street basis. A precursor to the programme was established in the constituency of my hon. Friend Mrs Glindon, who also made a maiden speech today. It was called warm zone in her area and she rightly told us of the great benefits to those in fuel poverty in her constituency.

There is also the decent homes programme, which has made flats in housing estates in constituencies such as mine warm, decent and dry. I am proud that the standard assessment procedure, or SAP, ratings have increased in the private and social rented sectors since 1997, under the Labour Government; the social rented sector improved more and faster.

Another priority under Labour was to fight fuel poverty. Christopher Pincher asked why fuel poverty went up under a Labour Government. My hon. Friend Heidi Alexander explained that it was because of an unprecedented rise in fuel prices. Nevertheless, without Government measures, the number of fuel-poor households would have been 400,000 to 800,000 more in England in 2008.

What about Warm Front? That flagship policy of ours gave energy-efficiency grants to the most vulnerable households. We Labour Members are very concerned about the future of the policy and the priority that the coalition will give to those in fuel poverty as a whole. The Minister said in his opening remarks that his new policies are game changers and innovations. If they are, and if they work, we will support them. If the Government keep to our carbon reduction plans and time is not wasted, if their strategy is coherent and effective and if they meet the needs of the poor, they will have our support. However, if, as we fear, they are prepared to sacrifice all for the sake of short-term savings, ignoring the long-term need, they will have a fight on their hands.

We greatly welcome the extension of CERT, but does the coalition believe that that is the game changer that will really help the fuel-poor? How many in fuel poverty do the Government expect will be helped as a result of the extension of CERT? Will the Minister of State, hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), clarify whether the super-priority group of 15% is in addition to the 40% priority group or contained within it? In January, the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, said that grant programmes were to be maintained. That is good news, perhaps, because Warm Front is a grant programme. Does this mean that the Government are thinking again about Warm Front? Will they ensure that it helps the fuel-poor, given that CERT alone may not be enough?

I have gabbled on-I appreciate that I have spoken very fast-and I am afraid that I have another three pages to go, but I promise to finish soon. It is odd that only those of us who are speaking from the Dispatch Box are limited as to the amount of time that we have. Ministers have an extremely difficult job, but if they act within the parameters that we have set out in helping the fuel poor and truly cutting carbon emissions, they will certainly have our support; otherwise, they will not.

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