Domestic Properties (Minimum Energy Performance)

– in the House of Commons at 2:14 pm on 6th February 2018.

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of David Amess David Amess Conservative, Southend West 2:29 pm, 6th February 2018

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to ensure that domestic properties have a minimum energy performance rating of C on an Energy Performance Certificate;
and for connected purposes.

First, I join the five ladies in my family and all the residents of Southend West in celebrating the 100 years of votes for women.

The House will be well aware of the consequences of fuel poverty. As someone who comes from the east end of London, I well remember families not being able to pay the coalman to deliver coal to our properties. It is widely acknowledged that improved energy efficiency offers substantial health benefits. Indeed, there is a clear link between ill health and cold homes, where existing conditions such as respiratory illnesses or mental health issues are exacerbated. The Building Research Establishment recently estimated that the cost of cold and damp homes to the NHS was approximately £760 million a year. That is a substantial amount of money. Fuel poverty is responsible for many avoidable winter deaths and leaves some vulnerable people unable to heat their homes properly. It really is—dare I say it—Dickensian that some elderly people are living their lives in the one room that they can afford to heat.

I have been fortunate to have successfully pioneered a handful of private Member’s Bills on to the statute book. The one that I am particularly proud of is the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000. It was—as the violins play—in the year 2000 that I was finally drawn No. 5 in the private Members’ Bill ballot. That was my 17th attempt. As so often happens when a Member is fortunate in the ballot, I was inundated with requests from an array of lobby groups. Finally, with about 10 minutes left to make my decision, I was approached by the wonderful Friends of the Earth, and I was very impressed. Friends of the Earth persuaded me to dedicate my Bill to tackling fuel poverty. The next year of my life was spent engaging in parliamentary warfare, in the nicest possible way, not so much with Opposition Members as with some Members on my own side. The widespread social issue of fuel poverty had, until then, not gained much parliamentary attention. The Bill that I was blessed to be able to pilot successfully through Parliament called on the Government not only to define the concept of fuel poverty but to recognise it as a distinct social problem. It aimed to eliminate fuel poverty entirely, and called on the Government to devise a strategy for eradication by providing domestic insulation and other energy efficiency measures.

Good progress was made initially, and hundreds of thousands of people are estimated to have been taken out of fuel poverty as a result of that measure. Figures show that in 2015, 79% of homes in England had an energy performance certificate rating of band D or better, compared with only 39% in 2005. Sadly, however, in 2009 the then Government utilised a legal loophole to avoid delivering on the principal aim of the Act. The phrase “as far as reasonably practicable”, which was initially inserted to avoid forcing entry, was interpreted by the High Court as meaning that the Government could abandon the commitment to ending fuel poverty. My new Bill, the Domestic Properties (Minimum Energy Performance) Bill, aims to plug that loophole exploited by the Government.

The Bill will have two primary dimensions. The first concerns those homes that are classified as fuel poor. Last year’s “Annual fuel poverty statistics report” states:

“A household is considered to be fuel poor if it has higher than typical energy costs and would be left with a disposable income below the poverty line if it spent the required money to meet those costs.”

The Bill will require the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to prepare a plan to bring all fuel-poor homes up to energy performance certificate band C by 2030. The Conservative party committed itself to bringing all fuel-poor homes up to EPC band C by 2030 in last year’s manifesto, which stated:

“We will improve the energy efficiency of existing homes, especially for the least well off, by committing to upgrading all fuel poor homes to EPC Band C by 2030.”

What impact will this have? As an illustration, upgrading a home’s energy efficiency from EPC band E to band D reduces energy costs by £380 a year on average. Moreover, the annual running cost of a band C-rated home is £270 lower than the average band D-rated home, and £650 less than the average band E-rated home.

The second dimension of my Bill concerns those homes not classified as fuel poor. In other words, it has a longer-term aim of bringing all other homes up to the same EPC band C standard by 2035. Given that that will be a more onerous task, my Bill takes account of that burden by providing the Secretary of State with an additional five years in which to achieve that ambitious objective. Again, this echoes the commitments made in my party’s 2017 manifesto. It also reiterates the commitments pledged in the clean growth strategy, which states:

“We want all fuel poor homes to be upgraded to Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) Band C by 2030 and our aspiration is for as many homes as possible to be EPC Band C by 2035 where practical, cost-effective and affordable.”

In addition to those two fundamental objectives, the Bill will also require the Minister to maximise new and innovative technologies and to consider how best they can be utilised to realise the Bill’s aims. The United Kingdom has always been an innovative nation, and I know that encouraging innovation and enterprise is close to the heart of the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, my right hon. Friend Claire Perry. However, industry needs certainty. Certainty will arguably persuade innovators to invest in the novel technologies necessary to provide the materials required to warm cold homes.

I wish to deal with some concerns that one or two Members have raised with me. First, let me deal with the Bill’s impact on devolved powers. I can assure the House that my Bill will not infringe on the devolved powers granted to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I understand that Scotland and Wales have separate fuel poverty targets, but clause 1(5) will specifically prevent the Secretary of State from taking action without consultation with the devolved Administrations. It states:

The Secretary of State must have the agreement of the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers and the relevant Northern Ireland department before taking actions relating to devolved matters in pursuance of the duties in subsections (1) and (2).”

Secondly, the House will be pleased to hear that, by using the method suggested in the Treasury Green Book, my Bill is revenue neutral, and I hope that that will counter any objections regarding its financial implications. I have also taken the liberty of placing a copy of a revenue-neutral balance sheet in the Library of the House for Members to examine if they so wish. Finally, this is also a Bill with logical caveats. It will require the Secretary of State to bring homes up to EPC band C standard only where

“it is practical, cost-effective and affordable.”

It would not therefore apply to someone living in an old and extremely large property such as—dare I say it—a stately home. The Bill is therefore a reasoned and logical approach to finally ending fuel poverty—the ambition that I originally had in the year 2000—and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Sir David Amess, Peter Aldous, Richard Benyon, Sir Graham Brady, Martyn Day, Sir Edward Davey, Mary Glindon, Carolyn Harris, James Heappey, Mr Bernard Jenkin, Dame Caroline Spelman and Daniel Zeichner present the Bill.

Sir David Amess accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 March, and to be printed (Bill 161).