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Housing Energy Efficiency

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:22 am on 30th March 2000.

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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.