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Housing Energy Efficiency

– in the Scottish Parliament at 10:53 am on 30th March 2000.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 10:53 am, 30th March 2000

The next item of business is a Scottish Green party debate on motion S1M-707, in the name of Robin Harper, on housing energy efficiency, and an amendment to that motion. I call Robin Harper to speak to and move the motion. You have 10 minutes, Mr Harper.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 11:00 am, 30th March 2000

As winter draws to a close, it is timely for us to debate a problem that will have cost the national health service millions of pounds over the past few months. During that time, it will also have cost lives.

Let us be clear about the reality. Scotland has the worst housing conditions in northern Europe. A quarter of our homes are damp or have condensation. The average energy rating of a Scottish home is only four out of 10 on the national home energy rating scheme. Some 362,000 children and 119,000 pensioners live in houses that suffer from damp or condensation. That poor housing costs us a fortune; £100 million is spent by the NHS in Scotland each year to treat the victims of cold, damp housing. Every winter, emergency admissions of people suffering from respiratory diseases increase dramatically. Ministers claim that the winter bulge is caused by flu epidemics, but NHS figures show that the rise occurs even when flu is excluded from the figures. Poor health is not the only result. The excess winter death rate in Scotland is twice as high as in Scandinavian countries, which are colder than Scotland, and Canada; it is higher even than in Siberia. Recent press reports show that the death rate at the end of the 1990s is rising again; again, that is caused not by flu alone. Poor energy efficiency is a life-and-death issue.

Age Concern says that our pensioners cannot afford to wait for a rolling plan that now has no set date. In the partnership agreement, the Labour party said that the date would be 2007, but that seems to have disappeared.

Poor housing is bad for health, and it kills; it is also bad for the environment. Our poor housing stock leads us to waste precious fuel and to pump out extra pollution. A proper programme of home improvement could cut carbon dioxide emissions dramatically, by up to 9 million tonnes a year. Given the Government's admission of defeat in getting to grips with transport emissions—it refuses to set CO2 reduction targets for transport—it will need all the more help from action in other sectors.

The scale of fuel poverty makes a mockery of social inclusion. A massive 506,000 households need to spend more than 10 per cent of their income on heating and hot water alone. If other fuel uses are taken into account, the figure is 738,000. Fuel poverty takes money from the pockets of pensioners and children, money that could otherwise be spent on better food or clothing, and in local shops or on local services.

We have a massive problem in Scotland, but also a massive opportunity. Better housing means better health and a better environment; it would also boost local economies. The Executive understands that, but current Government initiatives, although they are a start, are inadequate. That is why I cannot accept the Executive's amendment, which wipes out, from my motion, the drawing up of new guidelines for efficient use of energy in homes; the provision of a minimum level of heating in properties; the appointment of a domestic energy efficiency co-ordinator in every local area; the identification of new fuel poverty and carbon dioxide reduction targets; and the establishment of a domestic fuel poverty advisory group.

I am pleased that the Executive has accepted, in its amendment, that home energy profiles should be available to house buyers and sellers, but that is not all that it has done. It invites us to commend a scheme that is clearly not working and is giving much concern to organisations such as Friends of the Earth, Energy Action Scotland and Age Concern—indeed practically everyone involved in reviewing the situation. The Executive cannot seriously ask us to vote for an amendment that wants us simply to commend a good idea.

Although winter fuel allowances for pensioners are a welcome attempt to address the poverty of those who live in poor housing, the housing stock remains so poor that most of that £100—soon to be £150—will go on heating the air around the houses, rather than on the houses themselves. Some pigeons roosting in the eaves have greater comfort levels than our pensioners. Furthermore, the winter fuel allowance does nothing for families with young children, especially lone parents who also spend long days in cold homes; and it does very little if—as The Sunday Times reported this weekend—it does not arrive until some time in spring, possibly posthumously in some cases.

The warm deal programme is the Government's flagship initiative for tackling fuel poverty. However, although it is targeted on the poor, it is poorly targeted. Furthermore, it is under-resourced: its maximum grant is too little to tackle the problem. A report from Scottish Homes, which the Executive has so far declined to publish, shows that at best the warm deal can reach only one sixth of the families that suffer from fuel poverty.

What could be done? We are missing a huge opportunity to tackle this blight on Scotland. In its 1999 election manifesto, the Scottish Labour party pledged to eradicate fuel poverty by 2007; however, that pledge disappeared from the coalition agreement. Although a huge amount of money has been spent on repairs and improvement of Scottish housing, it has not been properly co-ordinated and directed. That must change.

The basic housing standard for Scotland, known as the tolerable standard, is a remnant of the 19th century. The first housing bill for 12 years presents an opportunity for change. However, last year's housing green paper—the first for a generation—made very little of tackling fuel poverty.

I want to propose a range of policies that could be easily implemented to ensure that the ambitious but achievable target of ending fuel poverty is met. The housing bill, which is to be published this summer, must include measures on fuel poverty, and I will mention two examples. First, the sole statutory standard—the tolerable standard—that was introduced in the 1960s should include a measure of energy efficiency. That is a simple thing to ask for. Most people would find it astonishing that the basic standard does not mention the biggest problem in Scottish housing. The then Scottish Office launched its review of the tolerable standard two years ago, since when there has been silence.

Secondly, the role of Scottish Homes is being expanded to regulate both housing associations and council housing departments. The agency could have a new role in regulating the private rented sector, where conditions are worst. The regulation could be undertaken through local authorities, with Scottish Homes setting out standards and model practice. We already spend more than £200 million in Scotland in housing benefit payments to private landlords, and it is about time that we were able to guarantee that tenants were at least living in dry, warm conditions.

However, I do not want to leave the impression that because we are a legislature, all measures must be by law. If it wished, the Scottish Executive could introduce many measures tomorrow that would not involve opening the statute book, which is the issue addressed by my motion. First, I propose a new home energy efficiency champion for Scotland, who would act as a linchpin between the 32 local authorities, which should have overall control over energy efficiency in their areas, and the departments in Whitehall and Europe that also influence energy policy. The new post would be charged with co-ordinating the countless different energy initiatives, to ensure that they were all pulling in the same direction.

Secondly, I want local authorities to be placed at the heart of local energy efficiency work. Although they already have that role through the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995—which, incidentally, was a Green party initiative even before we had parliamentary representation here—they have few powers to make it real.

Thirdly, if it wanted to, the Executive could change the tolerable standard guidance tomorrow. At the moment, a house will pass the tolerable standard specification for adequate heating if there is an electric plug point in the room. The guidance could be changed to make it clear that a plug point is not enough and to reflect the need for heating provision to be adequate and affordable.

Fourthly, although regulation of the mortgage industry is a reserved area, the law governing house purchase is devolved. I would like energy ratings to become a compulsory part of the standard survey that is done when a house is sold. The Executive has discussed the introduction of a seller's survey to the Scottish housing market. It would be easy to introduce energy ratings as part of that. I am glad to hear that the Executive is at least conceding that point.

Much of what I have said is about making better use of the resources that we have. Between them, landlords and owner-occupiers spend more than £3 billion a year on repairs and improvements to Scottish homes. However, that money is not always spent in ways that provide the maximum long-term benefits to the community, the environment and the nation's health.

Plans are afoot to improve Scotland's housing stock. It is vital that the billions of pounds are invested wisely. All local authority housing plans and new housing partnership transfer plans should be subject to health impact assessments. In England, an idea is being permitted to go ahead, I believe in Cornwall, whereby doctors can prescribe insulation on the national health service.

We need to measure exactly what will be contributed to better homes, better health and a greener future for Scotland. What I have said only scratches the surface of what is possible. Our homes have to last 60 years or more. What we decide today will have a profound impact on the decisions that our grandchildren face.

We like to talk about joined-up thinking in Scotland. Let us move now to joined-up doing. I urge every member to support the motion and to become at one swoop an environmentalist, a health activist and an anti-poverty crusader.

I move,

That the Parliament calls upon the Scottish Executive to draw up and issue new guidelines to improve housing energy efficiency in both the public and private rented sectors and in the privately owned sector which include requirements that (a) at point of sale owners are entitled, as part of the Executive's proposed "Seller's Survey", to have access to a home energy profile based on National Home Energy Rating (NHER) specifications, (b) NHER energy audits are carried out on change of occupation in both the public and private rented sectors and (c) the guidance on the Tolerable Standard is amended to include a minimum level of provision for affordable heating within a property; commends local authorities on innovative initiatives such as the Edinburgh Rewarm project and asks the Executive to revise its Home Energy Conservation Act (HECA) 1995 guidance to require local authorities to appoint a dedicated HECA officer to co-ordinate all domestic energy initiatives in each locality, and urges the Executive to acknowledge its responsibilities under Climate Change Protocols and its own commitment to end fuel poverty by 2007 by identifying new targets and funds required to meet these targets and by setting up a fuel poverty advisory group, chaired by a newly appointed home energy efficiency champion, to prepare recommendations on the elimination of fuel poverty by 2007 and co-ordinate policy and funding in the domestic sector.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour 11:12 am, 30th March 2000

I thank Robin Harper for his speech. I hope that what I say will meet some of the aspirations that he outlined in his closing comments.

The Executive is clearly committed to improving home energy efficiency and to tackling fuel poverty. As Robin Harper indicated, one of our key aims is to use the warm deal and the healthy homes initiative to achieve that.

I want to outline the measures that the Executive is undertaking, to give a fuller picture than Robin Harper gave. I also want to connect those measures to the wider housing initiatives in which we are engaging in the forthcoming period.

I stress the fact that the warm deal is the largest home insulation scheme ever in Scotland. It provides much-needed help for pensioners and other vulnerable households. Under the previous Conservative Administration, the budget for home energy efficiency in Scotland was about £5 million per year. It is important to recognise that the situation has changed substantially since the introduction of the new Scottish Executive.

The warm deal provides grants of up to £500 for loft insulation, cavity fill and tank and pipe insulation and energy advice to help families make the best use of their budgets. The previous Administration felt that the noble sum of £170 was enough.

The programme for government commits the Executive to providing 100,000 warm deal grants during this Parliament. We have already exceeded the target for this year of 25,000—31,000 houses have benefited from the grants. I am convinced that we will more than meet our target during the next three and a half years.

We are backing the warm deal with real increases in expenditure.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour

I will conclude this point and then let Fiona in.

The budget for the year now ending is £10.25 million and will increase to £13 million next year and £14.5 million the year after that. That is a budget of almost £40 million over three years. That key commitment is far more substantial than any previous commitment.

The key difference with the warm deal in Scotland is that it is connected to the social inclusion agenda, allowing us to find employment opportunities for young people on the new deal. A total of 400 places are now available each year for young people taking part in the new deal. We hope that those people will then move into full-time employment. Much of the record indicates that that is the case.

The warm deal is an attempt to deal with fuel poverty. The 1996 figures show that more than half a million Scottish households spend 10 per cent or more of their income on keeping warm. Where I agree with Robin Harper—and presumably with Fiona Hyslop—is that that is a challenge to each and every one of us.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I think that Robin Harper would take this position as well: the Scottish National party welcomes the warm deal. The issue is this: do we acknowledge that the problem with the warm deal is basically one of insulation? It is not just about tackling dampness. There is no provision, for example, to have central heating systems that would really start to tackle fuel poverty in the way that we want. Will the minister please acknowledge that this is a problem, and review the operations? We are not getting what we could out of the warm deal.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour

I said that the various strategies that we are engaged in complement each other. The warm deal is part of that. Within the warm deal, we identify three major reasons for fuel poverty: poor energy efficiency, low household income and fuel prices. The general condition of Scottish housing stock could be added to those reasons.

A number of measures that go over and above the warm deal tackle the problem. That is why Wendy Alexander spent three hours yesterday explaining to the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee the Executive's aspirations for the injection of new money from private investment into our housing stock, above and beyond the new housing partnership investment. Without that step change in investment, many of the objectives that people in Scotland are concerned about will not be delivered.

Energy Action Scotland's report, "Scottish Fuel Poverty Update 2000", showed the challenge that we face. I am about to quote from it because reference has been made to a number of pressure groups. Pressure groups will ask for much more than the Government can sometimes deliver, but the report says that

"some dwellings cannot be made energy efficient, because of their construction, without the expenditure of unrealistic sums of money."

We want to understand how that interacts with wider Government initiatives to tackle household income. Without dwelling on the recent past, a number of the major changes to benefits, including the working families tax credit, are geared towards tackling the issues surrounding poverty households in Scotland and in the UK as a whole.

Last week, several commentators indicated that Mr Brown's budget was clearly targeted to address the needs of poor families. The commitment to the winter fuel allowance is 15 times the figure left to us by the previous Conservative Government.

Several major issues were raised by Robin Harper, about how we connect the warm deal.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour

I am sorry, but I will not take an intervention at the moment.

The healthy homes initiatives and increases in benefit for low-income households represent substantial help for fuel-poor households. We are listening to many of the pressure groups in Scotland, to address those issues over the forthcoming period.

Although the improvement and repairs grant system is one way in which we can do something substantial, the forthcoming housing bill will reform the grant system. For the first time, it will include work to improve energy efficiency, and grants will be available for cavity wall, loft, tank and pipe insulation and for space and water heating. The households on the lowest incomes will qualify for grants at rates of up to 100 per cent. We are targeting that investment, as Robin Harper indicated, to the most needy people. Such a step forward could be a major change.

Climate change was also raised by Robin Harper.

Photo of Lloyd Quinan Lloyd Quinan Scottish National Party

A number of organisations have suggested that the re-targeting of the warm deal, from 70 per cent being concentrated on public housing to 70 per cent being concentrated on private rented housing, and the suppression of the tolerable standard review, are directly related to the need for the lowest possible valuation on council housing, prior to the stock transfer.

Can the minister allay the fears that have been raised about that, and assure us that the review, which has now been processed for two years, will be made available to members?

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour

As always, Lloyd Quinan is accurate on no occasion. I am referring to the improvement and repairs grant system to target houses in private ownership—where most of the larger-scale problems in Scotland are. When we analyse where the most fuel-poor households are, we realise why they are targeted under the warm deal.

We recognise the role that local authorities can play in targeting fuel poverty. That is why we have announced another increase in the allocation of grant for that. I can assure Lloyd Quinan that we want to bring forward the evaluation and assessment of the tolerable standard so that Parliament can discuss the matter. I can give a commitment to do that in the near future.

Sarah Boyack recently published for consultation a programme of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The changes to the improvement and repairs grant system will help that process. We also intend to amend the building regulations to require any new build to meet more demanding standards for energy efficiency than ever before. I hope that that will address many of the issues that Robin Harper raised.

Robin Harper's motion urges the Executive to require home energy audits at time of sale. We agree with the principle of sellers' surveys, and the "Partnership for Scotland" and "Making it work together" documents both indicate that such a system will develop. We think that that can be dealt with through the market, but we will watch how the market develops before deciding whether legislation is needed.

I commend the local authorities that have engaged in good practice under the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, particularly City of Edinburgh Council, which has done pioneering work. We expect local authorities to work together. That is why we support the HECA officers network. We are examining the local authorities' first progress reports and will publish a report for Parliament later this year, which will assess their progress. We will also issue further guidance in the summer. I hope that all authorities will have a designated HECA officer. I cannot direct them to do so, but I can encourage them. I hope also that they will work with other independent bodies, such as the fuel companies, which are crucial to addressing the issue of fuel poverty.

Robin Harper's motion calls for a champion of home energy efficiency. I think that the Parliament should be that champion and I believe that the Executive is committed to ensuring that it is.

The policies that I have outlined today represent some of the steps that we are taking to tackle fuel poverty and meet climate change goals. We share the aspirations of every member of this Parliament in tackling something that has been ignored for too long: the condition of fuel-poor households in Scotland. I have outlined the progress that has been made in the Executive's attempts to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland over two sessions.

I move amendment S1M-707.1, to leave out from "calls upon" to end and insert:

"commends the Executive for its Healthy Homes Initiative as pledged in the Partnership for Scotland and the Programme for Government; commends the Warm Deal; welcomes the investment in improving Scotland's housing; welcomes the Executive's agreement in principle to the introduction of sellers' surveys, including an energy efficiency assessment; notes favourably the proposals for reforming the Improvement Grant system and amending the Building Regulations to require higher standards of energy efficiency, and recognises that these initiatives show the Executive's firm commitment to tackling fuel poverty and its effects and meeting climate change objectives."

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I interrupt the debate to make an announcement on behalf of Sir David Steel; he has asked me to bring this information to members as quickly as possible. A meeting has been arranged at half-past 1 today in committee room 1, at which members will have a chance to question the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and John Spencely on their respective reports. There will also be a presentation by the Holyrood design team next Tuesday at midday.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 11:22 am, 30th March 2000

I thank the Green party and Robin Harper for bringing the motion to Parliament today. The Scottish National party supports the motion as a first step to building a cross-party consensus on the eradication of fuel poverty. The focus of my speech will be on trying to build that consensus. The first step towards reaching that consensus is recognising the scale and severity of the problem. There is some concern about the Executive amendment's self-congratulatory tone and the absence of targets. There is a perception that the Executive is denying the scale of the problem. The Government must address the pertinent points that were made by the Scottish Warm Homes Campaign.

The fuel poor are defined as those who have to spend a disproportionate amount of their income on heating and hot water. In Scotland, 506,000 households spend 10 per cent or more of their income on heating and hot water. Excluding all other fuel costs, such as lighting, cooking and leisure, there are more than 500,000 people in Scotland who are fuel poor. Fuel poverty in an energy-rich country is a scandal. Scotland is the only country whose people have become poorer after oil was discovered. We have an opportunity today to make a collective pledge to put an end to that situation across all housing: private, public, rented and owned.

I will put forward an idea that was first floated at the annual general meeting of Energy Action Scotland: a warm homes amendment to the upcoming housing bill. I challenge the Executive to build into the bill at the outset energy efficiency measures, preferably complemented by targets.

A warm homes amendment would lay down in law the minimum standard that all homes would have to reach before being put on the market for sale or for rent. That minimum standard could be phased in over a number of years and would aim to lift all Scottish households out of fuel poverty within a given time frame. It is unfortunate that the Executive's commitment to end fuel poverty by 2007 has, as Robin Harper said, been removed.

Currently in Scotland 340,000 homes have a national home energy rating of 2 or below—that is, approximately 70 per cent of the total. A warm homes amendment could impose a legal requirement on anyone who is renting or selling a dwelling to ensure that that dwelling has an NHER of 3 or above by, for instance, 2007. The same amendment could set a deadline of 2015 for all homes to have a minimum NHER of 6, which would involve a further 1.6 million Scottish homes. That would mean that all housing in Scotland would reach a target that is currently enjoyed by only 20 per cent of dwellings. The amendment could set a realistic NHER target that would be achievable by the end of this Parliament's second session, and a longer-term target of an NHER of 6 for the middle of the next decade.

I realise that there are potential flaws in the proposal, and that we will have to debate the issue. Because of age or design faults, some properties will never reach those targets. For some properties, the level of investment would not be economic, but solutions must be found for those properties. A seven-year lead time for all properties to reach a minimum NHER of 3 is generous, and a 15-year lead time to reach an NHER of 6 is achievable with political will.

That method puts the responsibility on all of us to find a way, and responsibility on the Government to ensure that the private finance that it proposes to bring into the public sector is not spread too thinly, to look good in the context of the political numbers game. When the valuations are made as part of the stock transfer process—which will happen over the next year—we need the minister's assurance that fuel poverty and energy efficiency issues will be considered from the outset.

Home owners should be made responsible, and must be motivated to invest in their property. I foresee the estate agent's advertisement proudly boasting the NHER of a property as an incentive to potential buyers. It is unfortunate that Frank McAveety did not talk about making that part of the legislative process for independent guaranteed surveys. Responsibility should also be imposed on the private sector rental market, to ensure that the valuable homes that it supplies are of an adequate quality.

Future Governments should take responsibility for ensuring that parties such as the SNP, which seek to become the Government, include in their housing manifesto a worked-out plan of the way in which they intend to reach the legal standard. The warm homes amendment that could be promoted by this Parliament would set a national benchmark for us all to measure up to: a national ambition that is taken out of party politics and held up as an example of what the Parliament can achieve.

It is a cliché in political debate to say that no one has a monopoly on truth or good ideas. However, let this Parliament monopolise the issue of fuel poverty and eradicate it. I urge members to support the Green party motion. If this Parliament can deliver warmth in this cold, damp country of ours, it will have proved its worth.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 11:28 am, 30th March 2000

I congratulate Robin Harper on the way in which he proposed his motion: his speech was sincere, articulate and highly commendable. There is much common sense in the ideas that he put forward today. We should—and, indeed, we must—be more energy efficient. As Fiona Hyslop said, we live in a cold, damp country, and the issue of fuel conservation and energy efficiency is perhaps more relevant to life in Scotland than elsewhere.

There is much to commend in Robin Harper's motion. One would have hoped that local authorities would already—on their own initiative, and without urging from the Scottish Executive or legislation by the Parliament—have introduced staff officers who would be responsible for ensuring that homes are well insulated and that we are fulfilling our requirement to assist those who suffer from fuel poverty. Fuel poverty is an evocative issue, and one regarding which we have, in all probability, not done nearly enough.

Nevertheless, I take issue with Frank McAveety's remarks. He dwelt at length on the effectiveness of the warm deal, but did not, strangely enough, deal at all effectively with the measure that the previous Conservative Government introduced in the Social Security Act 1990—the home energy efficiency scheme. That was the first time when home energy efficiency had been considered in depth; the effects of both the legislation and the scheme were extremely positive. In the United Kingdom, some 3 million houses were assisted with a reduction of £45 in fuel costs, and 1.5 million homes were removed from the fuel poverty trap. The minister should have acknowledged that, no matter how grudgingly, given that, with the warm deal, the Labour party has built on the success of the previous scheme. I accept that the limit of £500 a house is an increase on the limit of £315 under HEES. Yet again, the Labour party has taken on board a Conservative policy, changed it mildly and made much play of the fact that the policy is unique to Labour.

Mr McAveety should also have mentioned the effect on fuel poverty of the privatisation of the public utilities, which resulted in a significant decrease in the amount that each household paid for fuel, including the VAT element added to fuel bills in 1985. There was a 29 per cent fall in domestic energy costs from 1985 to 1996, which was of tremendous benefit and which sought to achieve what Robin Harper's motion seeks to achieve.

However, we cannot support the motion because of one flaw. In due course, when the housing bill comes before the council—[MEMBERS: "Parliament."] I am sorry—I returned briefly to my previous existence.

I understand that the housing bill will be introduced in Parliament in June and that it will deal with home surveys. The concept of the seller's survey has considerable superficial attraction, but I do not think that it has been thought through. We are attempting to make life much easier and much cheaper for potential purchasers—particularly for first-time buyers, who are vulnerable. However, at the same time, we must ensure that we do not simply enlarge civil lawyers' already bloated gravy train. We must examine the proposal, which has yet to be properly considered—we shall have an opportunity to consider the proposals that emerge when surveys are debated.

On that basis, I am sorry that, despite the highly laudable nature of Robin Harper's motion, we will not be able to support him today. He is to be congratulated on the manner in which he put his motion before the chamber.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Has the member finished his speech, or will he take an intervention?

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

If Bill Aitken reads the motion carefully, he will note that it states:

"as part of the Executive's proposed 'Seller's Survey', to have access to a home energy profile".

The theory behind the motion is that, if a seller's survey is introduced—and I am sympathetic to its introduction—access to a home energy profile should be included. There should be access to such a profile whether the seller's survey is introduced or not.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

According to my interpretation of Robin Harper's motion—and the interpretation of any reasonable person who reads it—it commits us, to some extent, to the principle of the seller's survey. That would be an unsafe approach until the matter has been researched in greater depth.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat 11:34 am, 30th March 2000

We should recognise that we have come quite a long way in the past 20 years in dealing with energy efficiency and fuel poverty. During my previous, professional career, I talked to ministers about fuel poverty in the '80s and '90s.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

Yes, and in the '70s, too. At that time, there was little understanding of the concept of fuel poverty and an absolute denial of the existence of excess winter deaths. It took a long time for that concept to be understood and appreciated by government. Every year, 430,000 Scots die from the cold. That is hardly understood in Scandinavia; Norwegians and Swedes do not appreciate that there could be such a problem, as it does not exist in their countries.

Just as there was no recognition of fuel poverty or excess winter deaths, there was no understanding of the NHER scheme. At one time, the gas industry regulator actually abolished the contribution made from gas bills to schemes such as HEES. That was a retrograde step. The previous gas regulator felt that millions could have been invested in energy efficiency.

I recall the debate on VAT on fuel. I facilitated the "VAT on Fuel—Scotland Says No" campaign. One of the primary reasons for taking that stance was that there was no reinvestment of VAT in energy efficiency or fuel poverty measures. It was simply a tax grab by the Government of the day.

HEES has been important, and I commend the work of Energy Action Scotland in developing it over many years. The previous Government facilitated the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, which was introduced by my federal party president, Diana Maddock, and received all-party support.

We are making progress. It is important to recognise that. Standards-of-performance payments are made from the electricity industry and, more recently, from the gas industry towards efficiency schemes. That is helpful, but I hope that the rate of £1.20 per consumer will rise in years to come.

There is growing cross-party agreement that fuel poverty must be given careful attention. At £12 million, the warm deal has been a useful start and the emphasis on owner-occupiers is to be welcomed. As the minister said in reply to Lloyd Quinan, the evidence comes from Scottish house condition surveys, which show clearly that private rented accommodation has the worst NHER of all homes in Scotland. It is important to switch resources in that direction.

It is also important to recognise that the warm deal is over target this year, at 31,000 homes. I cannot overemphasise the importance of training, however. It is no use just throwing money at the problem; there must be adequate training. I shall illustrate that point with an anecdote that I heard recently from a constituent. Her loft had been insulated, but she had not removed her luggage. When she went up into the loft, she saw that it was perfectly insulated, with the luggage in the middle and the insulation fitted neatly around it. When she challenged the operative, he said, "I'm a loft insulator, not a porter, madam." Training is important because the job must be done correctly. There is still some way to go.

The tolerable standard must be raised. It is ridiculous that that has not been addressed and I hope that the minister will take that on board. Building regulations have been amended, but they are not retrospective. Why can building regulations and the new standards therein not apply to refurbishments? We should tell the chancellor that, although it is good to take VAT off the energy efficiency products that go into homes, we also need to take VAT off refurbishments. The raising of energy efficiency standards during refurbishments could be built into building regulations.

It is fine to insulate a house, but if the heating appliances in it are useless or are at the end of their life, nothing will have been achieved for the comfort levels there. For years during my previous professional career, I argued that the quality of appliances should be addressed in the Scottish house condition survey. I wish I had £1 for every occasion on which a tenant came to me and said that they were living with a 20-year old appliance that could no longer be repaired on a care-and-maintenance basis. We have to invest in appliance quality.

I accept that, with a change in occupancy, an energy rating should be applied. Stock transfer provides an ideal opportunity to provide targets for improving the quality of homes. We can eliminate fuel poverty in Scotland. A 15-year target is appropriate, and I am pleased that my party leader, Charles Kennedy, committed my party to that at our recent conference in Dundee.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour 11:40 am, 30th March 2000

We have heard an academic definition of the fuel poor. As far as I am concerned, the real fuel poor are the people who sit with their heaters off in winter because they cannot afford their bills, or the people who disconnect because they do not have the money to buy another power card and have already used up their credit. In any discussion of fuel poverty, we have to ask why—as has been acknowledged by the Department of Trade and Industry—the most expensive form of domestic energy payment is pre-paid meters. The poorest people are paying most for their energy.

I want to be more positive and constructive; I want to talk about a project that has been going on in my constituency. The South Ayrshire Energy Agency has set up a partnership with Austria and Finland, neither of which are nice hot Mediterranean countries, so that we can learn from them how other countries tackle energy efficiency. Already in South Ayrshire, an energy planning study has been performed. It is the first of its kind in Scotland and I hope that the results will be looked upon favourably by the Scottish Executive when it is circulated.

South Ayrshire Energy Agency has provided education about energy efficiency and has worked with young people in schools and other organisations using a board game that allows them to survey their own homes and to educate their parents about how to be more energy efficient. A project has applied for funding from the Energy Saving Trust to help householders install the energy-efficient appliances that have been talked about this morning, particularly central heating systems. That has coincided with the local authority working with housing associations to install double glazing to ensure that in villages such as Dailly in South Ayrshire—which I invite the minister to visit to see what has been achieved there—everybody is living in the same conditions. The agency has also worked with the private sector, because many people in the area live in either private rented accommodation or own their own homes and have been unable to bring them up to standard. Imaginative work has been done.

There have been other measures, including a small pilot trial of a hydro scheme on the River Ayr. Ayrshire Solar Club has been set up, which allows people to look at using solar energy, and enables them to purchase solar panels at a discount. It has been extended to include the installation of solar panels for water heating in some sheltered housing units, the free distribution of energy-saving fluorescent bulbs to elderly people in those units, and further work to see how those schemes can be supported through projects such as the Girvan sustainable community.

In future, we should look seriously at energy efficiency and housing. I am sympathetic to a number of Robin Harper's points. In particular, we ought to see what we can include in the forthcoming housing bill. I would support measures that call for energy efficiency and anti-fuel poverty initiatives to be addressed in the housing bill. We should be reviewing the tolerable standard regularly. We should be looking at the house condition survey.

The situation was brought home to me graphically by a student nurse in my constituency. She lives in private rented accommodation. After she has paid for her heating in her one-bedroom flat, she has little left to live on. When will we tackle the private sector and ensure that when people are letting homes for profit they do so at an affordable level?

I have overrun my time so I will finish on that point.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party 11:45 am, 30th March 2000

As other members have said, there is an unacceptable level of fuel poverty in Scotland. I want to thank Shelter, Energy Action Scotland and the Scottish Warm Homes Campaign for providing MSPs from all parties with briefing papers. Nobody in Parliament will dispute the conservative estimate that a quarter of our population is too poor to keep warm, or that those who are poorest—pensioners, single parents and the chronically ill—are the same people who are forced to live in the poorest and worst housing.

Investment in housing is essential if we are to make a serious attempt to tackle fuel poverty. The Government's pensioners bonus is welcome, but it is sad to see—as Robin Harper said—that the money is escaping from the purses of our pensioners to the profits of the fuel companies. The extent of the problem is that there are half a million households in Scotland—the most energy-rich nation in Europe—that cannot afford adequate heating. Surely that should have put fuel poverty at the centre of the Executive's programme. The SNP hoped that that would happen.

When the Executive launched its flagship social inclusion document, "Social Justice . . . A Scotland Where Everyone Matters", in a blaze of publicity last year, we might have expected that the fuel poverty problem would be addressed, but how disappointed we were. Instead of addressing fuel poverty, the document sets out an impressive list of targets, milestones and statistical indicators, from the number of mothers who smoke during pregnancy to the number of people who draw an old-age pension and still take exercise.

Such precision and attention to detail might have inspired confidence, but anybody who looked for hope for those who are in fuel poverty was sorely disappointed. Rather than setting a target, the document simply says that the Executive will increase

"the quality and variety of homes in our most disadvantaged communities."

There is no mention of how many homes that means, how quickly it will happen or when it will happen. Why? The same answer is repeated time and again—we are told by ministers that the warm deal will meet Scotland's needs with a budget of £12 million per annum.

Looking back through the answers and exchanges on the matter, I was astonished to see the range of needs that the £12 million warm deal is meant to address. Until now, the warm deal has been the minister's stock answer to questions on matters that range from provision for the elderly to the time scale of a fuel poverty review. As Frank McAveety said today, the warm deal can be used to tackle draught-proofing and insulation; it can be used for lagging pipes and tanks; it can be used for advice; and it can be used to buy energy-efficient light bulbs.

The warm deal, however, will not install any new heating systems and it will not install a single new boiler or radiator. Such things are beyond the parameters of the warm deal in Scotland—in contrast with the situation south of the border. Even if the Government had a 100 per cent take-up rate, the warm deal would affect only one sixth of the families who are unable to afford heating. It is not a warm deal—it is a raw deal. It is a raw deal for the people who need things to get better. Perhaps that is why the Executive has not included fuel poverty in its glossy list of targets and milestones. Theirs is a Scotland where everybody matters—unless one is old, ill, cold or poor.

I welcome Frank McAveety's honesty in acknowledging the limits of the warm deal. The warm deal is not a panacea for fuel poverty. Perhaps for the first time, we can have the kind of debate that we need to have, so that we can genuinely tackle fuel poverty and bring hope to the half a million people in Scotland who are suffering.

The time is now—Parliament can do something about alleviating the problem, but we must all get together to achieve that. The first step towards achieving that will be admission by ministers that the warm deal, far from being commendable, has not solved and will not solve the problems of fuel poverty in Scotland.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative 11:49 am, 30th March 2000

I welcome Robin Harper's motion—it provides an opportunity to strengthen the links between policies on health, housing and the physical environment. Those links are mentioned in a report by the Scottish Council Foundation entitled "The Possible Scot: Making healthy public policy." Robin Harper's commitment to better-quality housing is a view that is embraced by that document.

From the health point of view, I congratulate Robin Harper on his motion. There is no doubt that it is a good working example of a holistic approach to policy making. "The Possible Scot: Making healthy public policy" states:

"There is much evidence to suggest that poor health in Scotland arises from the complex interaction of a poor physical environment, adverse social environment, lack of life skills . . . and damaging personal behaviour."

It states that well-insulated, damp-free homes contribute strongly to the complex web of interaction from which the health status of the population emerges.

If we propose to concentrate on preventive health care, investing in housing could more efficiently improve our health status. A healthy housing policy should enable people to live in a home that promotes physical, mental and social health. Improvement to the physical fabric or energy efficiency of housing brings additional health improvements. The combined consequences of high fuel bills, poor living conditions and low incomes are debt, disconnection and ill health. There is no doubt that damp, cold housing causes chronic health problems and contributes to the winter increase in mortality.

The reported rate of asthma cases among children in homes with dampness is double that of those in homes without dampness. It also leads to more absences from school and children missing out on education, training, life opportunities and future earning capacity. Like many members, I visited a home during the warm homes week. I visited a lady in Dingwall who is part of the warm deal. I was able to see for myself that the lady, who is not very mobile, is on benefit and has a fixed income, is able to benefit from the draught- proofing and insulation in addition to low-energy lightbulbs and energy advice. All had contributed to her quality of life, better health and additional comfort. I was impressed with what I saw. That does not mean that it was adequate, but it was undoubtedly a great benefit to her.

Many people with inadequate heating keep their windows shut. The lack of ventilation can exacerbate respiratory problems, especially if there are smokers in the house. I have a lot of sympathy for Robin Harper's commonsense proposal of health impact assessments. Damp houses and poor heating also exacerbate arthritic conditions. People with respiratory problems often do not function efficiently and find it difficult to concentrate. There is also evidence that poor quality and damp housing can lead to depression and a lack of self-esteem.

For many reasons, including the joined-up thinking and the holistic approach to policy, I commend this motion. With more money being spent on fuel, there is less available for nutritional food, which leads to dietary imbalance that can lead to a person's general health suffering. Good insulation and warm homes are positive measures to advance preventive health care and people's quality of life.

I congratulate Robin Harper on bringing this motion to the chamber and on illustrating the benefits of one policy as it overspills and synergises to benefit so many others.

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat 11:54 am, 30th March 2000

The trouble with houses is that, by and large, the architects who design them and the developers who build them do not have to live in them or pay to heat them. If we want more energy-efficient housing, we must force, persuade or encourage architects and builders to think more about energy efficiency. National home energy ratings being made routinely available should help to focus minds and hearts on energy efficiency. Potential buyers are given a measure of how relatively expensive to heat their new home will be—a factor that has not been readily available hitherto.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

Nora Radcliffe's point about architects and builders is true, but will she accept that 70 per cent of Scottish housing was built before any insulation was required? The result is that 70 per cent of our housing stock was built pre-insulation.

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat

That is a good point—Tricia is right.

If energy efficiency becomes a significant selling point, new homes will be built with it in mind and existing home owners will have more incentive to invest in efficient central heating boilers, double glazing, insulation, solar panels and so on. The recent amendment of the building regulations to require higher standards is welcome and will have an impact, but only on new housing. Our energy efficiency standards are still lower than those of most northern European countries.

Local authorities need to be able to fund substantial home improvement grants for environmentally effective measures, targeted at the worst stock regardless of whether it is rented or owner-occupied, to encourage people living in below standard properties to upgrade them. Better support should also be given to the voluntary organisations that help people make improvements to their homes when they are too elderly or infirm for do-it-yourself or cannot afford to pay tradesmen. The people who are least able to afford heating usually live in the hardest to heat homes and have the most expensive and inefficient heating systems and payment methods. More than a third of Scottish households suffer fuel poverty and well over 100,000 households suffer extreme fuel poverty—they spend more than a fifth of their income on fuel.

Fuel poverty could be tackled by raising incomes—a good idea for pensioners—or by reducing fuel prices, which would be a good idea for me. Neither would meet environmental concerns. To do that, we need to make homes easier to keep warm for the same or less money and fuel. Failure to tackle the waste of energy involved in trying to keep damp and poorly insulated houses warm has consequences for us all; an estimated 14 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions come from the domestic sector.

According to Energy Action Scotland, the Government estimates the cost of personal subsidies for fuel consumption—cold weather payments, winter fuel payments to pensioners and so on—as £3.6 billion over the next three years. Over the same period, spending on property improvement will be £1.2 billion—about a third of that subsidy—and it will treat only the symptoms, not the disease.

Money spent on bringing Scotland's housing stock up to an acceptable standard of thermal efficiency would be money well spent. The cost to Scotland of damp, cold homes is enormous. The cost of treating illness is estimated at about £1 billion a year. We must add to that the economic cost of days taken off work through illness and loss of productivity. A less obvious cost is the waste of human potential. Children cannot study properly if they do not have a reasonably warm and quiet place at home to do so; older people become less active and their quality of life deteriorates; and, to put it brutally, many older people die.

Mortality in the Scandinavian countries is roughly the same throughout the year. In Scotland, the death rate rises by more than 30 per cent in winter. Could that be because the average Scottish house scores only four out of 10 for energy efficiency and because a quarter of our housing is damp or affected by condensation? The problem is huge, but we know what the solutions are, that they would save money, that they would bring other benefits and that they would help us meet environmental targets. We should get on with it.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour 11:59 am, 30th March 2000

I am pleased to speak in the debate and I understand why Robin Harper has introduced the motion. I am glad that we are focusing on improving energy efficiency and tackling the scourge of fuel poverty. I will not repeat what has been said about fuel poverty but I agree that in the 21 st century its extent and its continuing existence is unacceptable.

The Labour Government was the first to accept explicitly the existence of fuel poverty. It did so for a real purpose—to tackle the problem. Under the previous Government, fuel poverty was ignored—even ridiculed. I am sure that we all remember the introduction of VAT on fuel. We should also remember that one of the first actions of the Labour Government was to reduce VAT on fuel to 5 per cent—the lowest possible figure under European Government rules.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

I will not give way, because my time is limited.

There is a definite need to continue to work in partnership with other sectors, especially fuel suppliers. I welcome the recent announcement by suppliers that they intend to abolish standing charges. We need to work with them to reduce the cost of fuel and to help people on low incomes pay for it in a more efficient way. We should remember that people on low incomes usually pay more than those of us who can afford to pay by direct debit or standing order, or those of us who receive discounts for prompt payment. Surely that is not right. We should encourage fuel suppliers to find another way of collecting payments.

The Executive has introduced measures that will improve the energy efficiency of many Scottish homes. The warm deal is an example of that. People throughout Scotland have taken advantage of the funding that is available to improve their homes. Tricia Marwick described the warm deal as a raw deal. I am sure that the approximately 750 people from my council area who have benefited from the warm deal programme would not describe it as a raw deal, but as a start in tackling fuel poverty.

This is a valuable opportunity to focus on fuel poverty. It is also an opportunity to focus on fuel efficiency. Efficient use of energy in our homes has clear benefits for the environment. Uninsulated or inadequately insulated homes—homes with draughty windows and doors—mean a waste of precious energy and, as has been said too often this morning, of cash that can be ill afforded.

Modern lifestyles mean that we pay little regard to the small decisions in our lives that, collectively, could make a big difference to the volume of fuel that we consume. Inefficient behaviours, coupled with poor standards of design, construction and repair of homes, lead to a huge amount of wasted energy every year by domestic households. For that reason, we need to look at the bigger picture. Reform of building regulations and standards must come. Through good-quality regulation, we can ensure that homes are energy efficient. Extra expenditure of between £500 and £900 could bring new-build homes up to standards acceptable for the 21st century. Over the term of a mortgage, that is not very much.

There is agreement that fuel poverty and fuel efficiency must be addressed. The minister has highlighted the start that the Executive is making. I hope that, through the coming housing bill and the review of building regulations, fuel poverty will be eradicated and energy will be better used. I welcome the start that the Executive has made and will support Frank McAveety's amendment.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I apologise to those members whom I have been unable to call this morning. I call Robert Brown to wind up on behalf of the Liberal Democrats.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 12:03 pm, 30th March 2000

I apologise to the first two speakers in the debate for not being present to hear them. Unfortunately, I had an appointment with destiny with the dentist. I will read the speeches with interest later.

This has been a good debate. Robin Harper, who initiated it, is to be congratulated on its content. Robin is becoming something of an expert on this topic and has been very generous in sharing the information that he has acquired with the rest of us who have an interest in it.

I want to try to summarise the issues. The standard of new buildings is a key issue, but it is self-defined to some degree. More significant in the short term is the situation with regard to existing houses—houses that have not been built to standard and that do not have proper insulation. It is in such houses that the poorer sections of the population tend to be concentrated.

I detect this morning that there is a growing sense of authority in the chamber about the way forward. Fiona Hyslop talked about taking party politics out of the issue and Euan Robson talked about growing cross-party concern. This chamber speaks with authority when it says that, although the Executive has done a lot of good work and there has been significant progress through initiatives such as the warm deal, there is a large, desperate and urgent problem to be tackled. It will redound greatly to the credit of the Parliament and the Executive if we make a significant impact on the curse of fuel poverty in the first parliamentary session.

This is a policy area in which we can achieve a range of good things. We can deal to an extent with global warming. We can help people in poverty. We can help to reduce costs of output. We can contribute to tackling the health problems that have been mentioned in this debate.

I wonder whether there is potential for a Cubie-style report on existing housing. Regardless of the background politics, Cubie did a very good job in identifying and presenting information and options.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

No. I will not get into a party dispute on this matter. The Parliament could initiate a task force under the leadership of somebody suitable in the field, which could focus on the issue, identify the costs, deal with the priorities and arrive at a consensus around which Parliament and the Executive could move forward. There is a will in the Parliament and the Executive for that to happen. I hope that the minister will consider such an approach.

I know that much good work is being done behind the scenes and that the warm deal has advanced things. I know that there is a problem over the amount of money that can be drawn in from fixed budgets. We need to make every penny count. A cross-cutting approach is very important. We have had experience of leasing arrangements with the fuel companies, which allow the installation of new central heating equipment without capital input by the Executive or local authorities. It is worth while to develop such arrangements as much as possible.

When I was a councillor, there was something called the estate rate heating addition, which I think no longer exists. It was a significant weekly payment that allowed people on income support who had inefficient heating systems to heat their houses. The result was that, instead of tackling the problem, we fed the symptom. There must be many examples of that elsewhere.

This matter is urgent and requires action now, not tomorrow. There is consensus in the Parliament that there should be such action. I hope that the Executive will respond positively to the many good suggestions that have emerged from this debate.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative 12:08 pm, 30th March 2000

I, too, congratulate Robin Harper for bringing this motion before Parliament and for the manner in which he has addressed the issue. His motion allows us to debate a very important aspect of housing, which is a subject that is not high up on the list of priorities for the Scottish Executive's initial legislative programme.

I agree with much of what Robin Harper has said. Many of his proposals and the issues that he has raised should be the subject of further discussion and consideration in the long-awaited housing bill. I also agree with Cathy Jamieson that that bill must address dampness and fuel poverty. Reducing dampness and condensation in our houses would create considerable savings and health gains and bring about a most welcome improvement in the quality of life of residents.

Labour's manifesto promised to eliminate fuel poverty by 2007, but that promise became vague and watered down in the partnership agreement. Is that another Liberal triumph?

The part approach of Labour and the Executive to fuel poverty has been to replace the Conservative Government's successful home efficiency energy scheme with a revised scheme, warm deal, and with fuel allowances. Labour's overall approach to housing is a continuation of many of the policies that were championed by the Conservative Government.

Local authority expenditure for improving housing conditions in the private sector has suffered substantial cuts since 1995. The fault lies not only with the Labour Government, which has drastically reduced capital grants to councils, but with councils. Prior to 1995, funds allocated to councils by government were ring-fenced to housing.

Following representations from COSLA, Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State for Scotland, devolved decision making on this spending to councils and removed the ring fence. Councils claimed they knew better how to spend capital allocations in their areas. The result was that capital spending on private sector housing plummeted from £118 million in 1995-96 to £45.3 million in 1998-99. Nearly £200 million that would previously have been spent on improving housing conditions for elderly and low-income home owners has been spent on other local government services. Both groups are growing and their need for support is increasing year on year.

According to Shelter Scotland, fuel poverty affects some 738,000 households in Scotland. The greatest benefit to those householders and to other energy consumers resulted from the Conservative privatisation of the utilities. Bill Aitken mentioned the fall in real energy prices, although he did not describe it in full detail. Cathie Craigie mentioned the imposition of VAT but, despite that, between 1991 and 1996, the cost of gas fell by 8.5 per cent, the cost of heating oils fell by 10.5 per cent and the cost of electricity fell by 5 per cent.

We support the stock transfer of houses from councils to local housing associations, housing co-operatives and a range of other providers.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

Will the member tell me how stock transfers will achieve an improvement in the physical condition and energy efficiency of the stock?

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

Is the member talking about the right to buy or stock transfers?

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

Stock transfers will bring in the necessary resources to improve the standard of accommodation. Such resources are not available through local government resources at present and are unlikely to be so. Stock transfers would bring in private sector investment to assist in the necessary repair and renovation projects, which would greatly reduce the number of cold and damp homes in Scotland.

The problems will not be resolved overnight; however, there is a real opportunity, through the Parliament, to begin this huge task. We look forward to debating it and to working with the Executive and the other parties in addressing this mammoth issue.

Photo of Lloyd Quinan Lloyd Quinan Scottish National Party 12:12 pm, 30th March 2000

I thank Robin Harper for bringing about this debate. As everyone is aware, the Scottish National party will be supporting the motion from our colleagues in the independence movement, the Green party.

We have to face the harsh reality that Scotland, where one in four households is fuel poor, is an oil-rich and energy-rich nation. The simple, shaming truth is that while our country exports energy in many forms for profit, more than half a million households shiver through a cheerless and fireless Scottish winter.

I am pleased that this debate has exposed the nature of the problem, which is the shortcomings of our nation's most fundamental infrastructure—the homes in which our people live. The statistics have been laid before us: nine out of 10 Scottish homes fail modern energy efficiency standards. Those who can least afford it can only watch the bills soar, due to the countless units of electricity and therms of gas whose expensive purchase has done little but warm the streets of our towns and the air above our villages, and increase the profits of the generating companies.

It is positive that the Executive has at least recognised the problem and has implemented a warm homes initiative. However, what is far less positive is that the Executive has failed to acknowledge the scale of the problem and to provide resources correspondingly. Contrary to the answers given in Parliament, the warm deal, as it stands, is no panacea to fuel poverty. Far from it. No matter how we look at it, even if we spend £12 million a year—or £40 million over three years—from now to eternity, we will not keep this country warm.

Perhaps that is why, despite repeated questioning, I have been unable to secure an answer about the work that is being done to establish the scale of the warm homes initiative. Indeed, a whole winter has passed since I last wrote to the Deputy Minister for Local Government, asking about the time scale of the review of fuel poverty. As yet, I have received no reply. In the spirit of consensus, I would not like to suggest that the Executive was anything other than committed to eliminating fuel poverty. However, a little evidence that it is at least analysing the problem would not go amiss.

We fully support Robin Harper's suggestion that the concept of tolerable standard should include a measure of energy efficiency. There should be regulation where conditions are worst—in the private rented sector.

I remind the Executive of the strongest point to have come out of this debate. If Scotland is to have the warmth that we deserve and to which we have a right, investment in housing in essential. In these days of climate change, the Kyoto accord and limited revenue budgets, it is short-termism in the extreme to suggest that we can solve fuel poverty by asking people to spend ever increasing amounts, subsidised by the state or otherwise, on coal, gas or electricity for heat that will be lost in the battle against dampness or that will simply escape to the outside air. It has to be recognised that investment in housing is essential if fuel poverty is to be tackled.

We all had high hopes that the Executive had recognised that when, in November, in the chamber the Minister for Communities said that she had

"put together a revolutionary package for . . . housing".—[Official Report, 24 November 1999; Vol 3, c 823.]

By December, Ms Alexander wanted "more than rhetoric" and said that she had opted for "a fundamental rethink." No one could have dreamed that the minister's fundamental rethink would involve cutting almost 10 per cent from housing budgets between the publication of "Serving Scotland's Needs" in March last year and the Executive's budget document "Making it work together" in December.

Adjusting her figures to real terms, and considering the first three years of this Parliament, Ms Alexander has cut some £126 million from Scotland's three major housing budgets. I had thought that that money might have been redirected into the Government's priority policies, but unfortunately the figures for the new housing partnerships and the new deal are down as well, cut by some £35 million from the figures of last March.

Energy efficiency clearly has to be looked at from a new perspective. We have to consider our situation as a small nation in the north of the northern hemisphere. We must learn the lessons on sustainability that our Scandinavian neighbours learned many years ago, and bring in regulations to ensure that Scotland's housing stock is suited to Scotland's climate. It is senseless to continue with building regulations that were set in Westminster and that were drafted from a middle England perspective for a middle England climate. We have our own Parliament. We can surely adapt our standards to ensure that our housing stock matches our climate. We must learn from our European neighbours. The Scottish National party fully supports the motion from the independence-minded Green party.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour 12:18 pm, 30th March 2000

I would like to reiterate something that I said earlier. The facts speak for themselves—taking the figures that we inherited in 1997 as a base, there has since been an increase of 40 per cent in the figures on the line for housing expenditure. We have doubled the amount of money that has been spent on the warm deal, although we recognise that the warm deal is but one part of the solution to the critical issue of fuel poverty. We are committed to the new housing partnerships and to levering in new money over the next five to 10 years through the community ownership strategy, a strategy that seems to be opposed by many who have spoken today. There are many measures that can tackle fuel poverty.

We are also committed to tackling problems around household income. A whole raft of measures has been adopted by the United Kingdom Government to try to improve the general level of income of people in the poorest households. Figures relating to that are key to the debate on fuel poverty. During the earlier debate on the Scottish service tax, we heard about Balmoral Castle, which is probably not very energy-efficient accommodation. However, the individual in that castle could probably well afford to pay its heating bills. The income of people who live in particular houses is relevant.

I want to engage in the debate with political parties, local representatives and pressure groups, and I want to talk about the scale of the challenge that faces us after 100 years of housing policies that have left us with housing much of which is no longer fit for habitation or suitable for future needs. We require a radical step change, and the new housing partnerships and stock transfer proposals should be considered in their totality.

I will try my best to respond to the points that have been raised. We have set targets for what we aim to do under the warm deal. Our target of 100,000 grants aims to ensure over the next four years that people receive the benefit of the warm deal. That is substantially more than can be targeted in the system in England.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour

I will let Robin Harper in in a moment.

When the much-trumpeted issue of central heating systems in England is mentioned, it is as if everybody would require—or qualify for—that benefit elsewhere in the UK. In reality, it is targeted at a small number of pensioner households on income support. Many lone parents in England would not be eligible for the benefits that are provided through the warm deal in Scotland.

I also want to address some issues that were raised by Fiona Hyslop. We need to take on board the reports that will be produced over the coming period. They will inform the Parliament, the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee and the other committees that have an interest in energy efficiency. I hope that parliamentarians will take on board, with the Executive, the shared agenda of tackling energy efficiency. I hope that we can progress many of the issues that have been raised today, not just in the committees but in the housing bill that will be introduced.

Euan Robson mentioned building regulations. We want to encourage owners to improve energy efficiency at refurbishment through advice that is produced as part of the energy efficiency best practice programme. We also want to examine a number of other areas within the building regulations. We hope to consult on those areas and take some views.

I am happy to receive input from members. Lloyd Quinan said that he had not received a reply from me. I will check whether that is the case, and I guarantee that he will get a response in future.

I think Robert Brown mentioned the Scottish Homes report and the national house condition survey. We will have those reports over the next period of time, and they will inform critically any response that we make. I hope that we can take on board any of the comments made within that report.

There is much on which we can work together with Robin Harper to tackle the bigger picture of fuel poverty. We want to work with organisations across Scotland to come up with something that will address many of the issues.

In my constituency, there is a substantial amount of housing that is below tolerable standard. On Friday afternoon, as part of my constituency duties, I met the Govanhill Housing Association, so I am being made aware, at a constituency level, that the issue is critical. It is about combining a whole series of measures, including ring fencing, and whether allocation within local authority housing budgets should be reintroduced to ensure that we have a planned programme. Admittedly, that would require discussion with COSLA and local government, but we hope to address that.

There are many other issues that I hope will influence us through the work of the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee and other related committees. I hope that they will shape and influence some of the things that will emerge in the housing bill.

I commend the Executive amendment to the chamber.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 12:23 pm, 30th March 2000

Somewhere deep in the recesses of Victoria Quay, there is somebody who writes every single Executive amendment. All those amendments come to us in the same self-congratulatory tone and ignore the facts that are staring the Executive in the face.

I was glad to hear the minister mention, for the first time in this debate, the possibility of ring fencing. The sum of £100 million is spent every year by the NHS on curing the problems that are caused by poor housing and dampness, while about £5 million to £6 million is spent on addressing those problems through insulation programmes, the warm deal and so on. We have things upside down.

Today's debate will achieve one thing if it drives housing energy efficiency further up the agenda, for the country and for the Parliament. It is an education concern—think of the child doing his or her homework, in the one room of the house that can be heated, with the rest of the family watching television. It is also a health concern, an income concern and an environmental concern, and must be the top priority for the next year of the Scottish Parliament. That is why I cannot accept the tone of the Executive amendment.

I am also sad that the Tories have bottled out, just as they did last week in the debate on genetically modified organisms. If the Tories had voted for my motion in the GMO debate, the Executive would have had its nose put slightly out of joint. Today, the Tories have bottled out again.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

We would have voted for Mr Harper's amendment but for the fact that it is not our policy to try to embarrass the Executive just for the sake of it, only when it is wrong.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Well, the Tories should make that their policy.

The Executive's amendment is misleading. Although it has been consulting with councils on the effectiveness of the warm deal, it has still not revealed that survey's contents. I commissioned my own study last November, and Christie Ellis, an American politics intern from the politics department of the University of Edinburgh, produced a report based on responses from a third of Scottish local authorities.

That report was handed to the Executive, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats and is one of the many documents that I have shared with the parties in the chamber. The report's bottom line was that our authorities believe that the scheme is seriously underfunded, as member after member has pointed out this morning. The Executive must recognise and admit that fact, and tell us that it will find the money for the scheme.

HECA officers and everyone else involved have a great deal of expertise—and a great will—to tackle the problem. By 2007, with the present and future resources available, we will have dealt with at most a fifth of the total problem in publicly and privately owned properties of all types. Yet the Executive invites our congratulations.

We need a housing bill and the highest possible building standards. Although Sweden and Denmark are cited as being the best in that respect, we do not need to go to Scandinavia to see what can be done. People can just hop on a number 5 bus or take a healthy 25-minute walk down to Lower London Road to the LINK housing project, where 95 houses have been built with an NHER of 10, the highest possible rating, and a standard assessment procedure, or SAP, rating of 93 per cent, at a cost that is only 4 per cent higher than the average cost of building such tenements in Scotland. It is a fantastic project that should set the standard. There should not be any talk about setting higher standards in the housing bill. There is built proof at the foot of the Royal Mile that we can build to the highest standard.

The minister has a problem with my suggestions. Civil servants are paid to solve problems that Parliament sets for them. I care not whether guidelines are issued in green, white, yellow or purple papers, or in a simple letter to local authorities and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. It is simple as that. Why is the Executive unwilling to flag up ideas that might well be in the new housing bill? Why not give everyone a chance to try out these strategies if they wish to and to benefit from the experience as the bill is developed?

My motion is an attempt to make the housing debate as important as the debates on education and health, and I hope that it has had some effect in that respect. Housing should arguably be our topmost priority and is clearly not yet. My motion sets out a small agenda which should be helpful to local authorities and have minimal cost implications, with none for the Executive, unless the cost of paper is counted as significant. The amendment is smug, self-congratulatory, misleading and vapid; it is of little use and should not recommend itself to the chamber. In short, it should be rejected.

The Executive has a problem with my motion—oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I appeal to the chamber to give the Executive another problem: vote for the motion and reject the amendment.