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Housing Energy Efficiency

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:28 am on 30th March 2000.

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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.