ON-LINE DEBATE

27 February1998

Mr. Clive Efford MP (Lab. Eltham)


The Government have left no one in doubt that they are determined to achieve their manifesto commitment and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent. of the 1990 level, by 2,010. They have taken a strong stance. The position that they held out for in Kyoto is to their credit and they have successfully negotiated for targets that can be easily understood, but it is vital that the wider public realise that it is not merely the responsibility of the Government to achieve those targets and that, if we are to leave this planet of ours in a sustainable state for any future generations, we must all play our part.

An important element in achieving that objective is to educate the public on the issues that need to be confronted, to give them the information that they need and to allow them to make choices. The Bill, and others dealing with similar measures, seeks to ensure that that information is obtained and made available.

Much of the debate since Kyoto has centred around the car. The Government's commitment to an integrated transport strategy will make a huge difference when it is implemented, but energy efficiency in the home will also have a significant influence….In one of the excellent research documents produced by the House of Commons, I read that the Socialist Environmental Resources Association has stated that it believes that 16 per cent. of the Government's 20 per cent. target for 2,010 can be achieved by home energy efficiency.

According to the housing conditions survey published in 1991, 66.8 per cent—15.9 million—of homes were then in the private sector. That was an increase from 11.7 million—55 per cent—in 1981. Of those, 2.4 million homes were built before 1900, 3.8 million were built between 1900 and 1945, nearly 3 million were built between 1965 and 1980, and only 1.3 million were built from 1980 to the date of the survey, in 1991. The average Victorian terraced house rates just three out of a maximum score of 10 on the national home energy rating survey. The age of a property is a reliable indicator of the need for energy efficiency.

The figures demonstrate the need for potential purchasers of a property to be made fully aware of the potential costs, not just to themselves through heating bills, but in terms of the impact on the environment. In the long term, we should not underestimate the impact that the Bill will have on the housing market in terms of new build and improvements to housing. The knock-on effect will increase quality.

I recently visited a project carried out by Hyde housing. This was an expensive development, due to the fact that it used a great deal of recycled materials—the main cost was for the use of recycled stock bricks. A whole range of measures were taken which point the way for the future, including the type of boiler, double glazing and glass used, as well as the lighting and ventilation.

The estate had a state-of-the-art method of dealing with ventilating the kitchen area. It sensed the dampness in the air and automatically opened the vents, which passed air out through the roof. Such measures can be taken at an early stage in planning, and I am sure that the Energy Efficiency Bill will encourage those planning new housing to take them on board, as they will have to consider selling the housing at a later date.

The project scored 10 out of a maximum of 10 in terms of the national home energy rating survey. The average score for Hyde housing association properties is eight and, as I said, the average score for a Victorian terraced house is three. That indicates what can be achieved if people take on board environmental improvements.

Under building regulations passed by the previous Government, all new-built houses are required to have an energy rating. Unfortunately, despite their commitment to market forces, the previous Government did not think it necessary for purchasers of these properties to be given access to that information. In these times of concern for environmental issues--particularly the effect of greenhouses gases--the public must be given these facts to allow them to make proper judgments. The Energy Efficiency Bill will force house builders to give more consideration to the issue of energy efficiency at the planning stage.

My Bill, The Energy Conservation (Housing) Bill, will amend the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, with the effect that the requirements currently placed on local authorities will extend to social landlords or housing associations. The Act requires local authorities to prepare a report on energy conservation measures in their area, and they are often required to report on housing association properties of which they have very little knowledge.My Bill will require housing associations, who have the best knowledge of their properties, to do this for themselves. Efficiency will be introduced into the gathering of information and, hopefully, the benefit will pass quickly to tenants.

The Housing Conditions survey—states that 52 per cent. of housing association tenants are low income households. Nationally, 30,000 to 50,000 deaths occur each year due to cold weather. Cold-related illness costs the national health service 1 billion a year.

Fuel poverty is an everyday problem for too many people, especially the elderly. The Government were right to cut VAT on fuel for that reason. However, evidence given to the Trade and Industry Committee suggests that a 10 per cent. cut in energy prices, particularly for domestic fuel, results in a 2 per cent. increase in demand. Some would conclude that a cut in fuel prices is damaging to the environment, but the argument for reducing VAT on fuel was that for people on low incomes, the marginal tax rate was so excessive that they faced the choice of increasing their fuel debt or switching off their heating. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that a cut in VAT resulted in an increase in demand for domestic fuel. A balance must be struck between fuel charges and taxation on fuel, and incomes.

Through the Energy Efficiency Bill and my Energy Conservation Bill, we can make a significant contribution to achieving the Government's targets for improving our environment.

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