We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
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
"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.