New Clause 10 — Green deal installation apprenticeships

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 1:30 pm on 14th September 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Leader of the Green Party 1:30 pm, 14th September 2011

I am extremely grateful for that helpful intervention. It focuses on some of the contradictions in respect of the purpose of the ECO, and I hope that in this debate we can make clear what exactly the ECO will be for, how big it is going to be, the extent to which it is intended to subsidise those who are in genuine fuel poverty, the extent to which it is intended to subsidise those who cannot afford market interest rates, and the extent to which it is for hard-to-heat homes. There is a lack of clarity, and I worry that ECO is being used as a kind of get-out-of-jail-free card, in that whenever there is a difficult question, the ECO tends to be the answer. There simply is not enough money in the ECO for it to be the answer, however. The financial community has much less appetite than has been suggested for providing affordable green deal finance, which is why the green investment bank must step in.

As Members may remember, on Second Reading the Secretary of State quoted Conor Hennebry, director of global capital markets at Deutsche Bank, as having said that

“‘the City is practically champing at the bit to finance the government’s green deal.’”—[Hansard, 10 May 2011; Vol. 527, c. 1059.]

That sounds very good, but the Secretary of State failed to add that Mr Hennebry went on to say:

“Financing the green deal is absolutely possible for us”— the City—

“but whether the figures will stack up for you is a different matter.”

That is the crux of the issue: will the figures stack up in respect of rolling out this programme as widely as possible? I do not think they will. It is not at all clear that the figures will stack up for householders, unless there is Government support through either the green investment bank or the ECO. If the ECO is to be used, that is fine, but we must make it an awful lot larger and make its provisions a lot clearer.

No matter what interest rate is applied to the loans, it is vital that consumers have confidence that their rights will be protected if they take up a green deal offer, and I seek to strengthen those protections in amendments 26, 49 and 50. Amendment 26 would ensure that only products and services that reduce household emissions could be sold during green deal assessments and installation visits. Amendment 49 would ensure that consumer protections on the repayment of a green deal loan are extended to energy advice services or energy plans that are not specifically green deal plans. Amendment 50 would ensure that the Secretary of State can make regulations to ensure that quotes provided for green deal goods and services are easily comparable.

The Minister mentioned amendment 26 on what can and cannot be sold as green deal assessors go house to house. I do not propose a blanket ban. The amendment has changed since Committee. It is perfectly okay for somebody to knock on doors if they are talking about measures to reduce CO2 emissions, but it is not okay if they want to talk about wallpaper, for instance. I do not mention wallpaper in order to be frivolous. Rather, I wish to remind the Minister of what he said in Committee:

“If Marks and Spencer, or any other retailer, went into someone’s home to offer them a green deal, I am sure that it would also take the opportunity to market wallpaper, carpets and, if the walls are being lined, curtains and perhaps a sofa. This is a huge opportunity for home improvement, which will not be lost on responsible retailers. They will offer not just additional energy measures, but a whole package of other home improvement measures in a commercial atmosphere.”––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2011; c. 120.]

I am not at all relaxed about that, because I think it will lead to the pressurised mis-selling of products unrelated to energy efficiency, and that could completely undermine the green deal. There have already been similar problems in the small-scale renewables market, and they must be prevented in the context of the green deal. Sales in the home do not happen in a commercial atmosphere. Green deal assessors or providers are invited in because consumers are interested in energy efficiency. It is vital to ensure that commercial enterprises do not abuse the terms of those visits by pushing products that will not improve a home’s energy efficiency. I agree with Barry Gardiner, who pointed to the danger of some enterprises using the opportunity of being in someone’s home to try to persuade them to change to a different tariff as well.