HC Deb 27 July 1988 vol 138 cc415-6 3.59 pm
Mr. John Hughes (Coventry, North-East)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the provision of essential fuel and energy to each home, to guarantee appliances, to prevent the entry to premises without prior recorded legally authorised notice, to prevent the unauthorised removal of a fuel measuring device, to abolish standing charges; and for connected purposes. The purpose of the Bill is to eradicate the danger that people on low incomes experience when they are denied a requisite of life. The problems of the poor, the hardships that affect them and their impossible financial circumstances are best conveyed by a letter from one of my constituents. He wishes me to inform the House that he is living in the first home that he can call his own. He says: I have lived here two years and I am just starting life as living the meaning of life. I will explain as I go along. Suddenly I find myself without a job and, not surprisingly, I am in a situation where I am sensitised to the very feeling of financial impoverishment. And the inhumanity of Gas and Electric companies sending insulting and threatening notices to cut off such people as me without money to meet such demands because of state improverishment. The very fact that British Gas or the Electricity Board can have permission to make a forced entry into a destitute family's home vexes me. Whilst companies may have the right to be paid, it is abominably offensive to do the things they do. Who is the real offender and culprit behind non-payment? Is it not the state and the heads of state who legislate how much support and unemployment benefit which a family should receive? And other legislation which affects people in hopeless situations. I have answered the door this morning to an Electricity Board official, who wanted to cut off the supply. So I refused him entry, which is the only thing that anyone could do. As my unemployment benefit is £47 per week, from that I have a direct deduction of£8 per week for gas arrears before unemployment. That leaves me £39 to pay a £40 per week mortgage; to pay for electricity, the rates, to eat and to pay for everything necessary to run a home. I only eat what is cheap. Yet I am unable to respond to the normal domestic situation. If a light bulb blows, I cannot replace it. I pay no electricity; I pay no rates or the inevitable things like house insurance. You must know about it, unlike some, especially those of the Thatcher breed, who know little of what I experience. So what happens when I appear in court for non-payment? And I answer the man with the questions over the dock, whom the state appointed to judge me? Time denies me the opportunity to read all my constituent's letter, which defines the circumstances of the fuel poor, for which the Government have shown little concern. This is confirmed by the almost total absence of any discussion about the standard of housing and energy efficiency issues. His letter most accurately describes the appalling circumstances of the millions who were given no consideration when £2 billion was given away in tax handouts—tax handouts funded by social security changes and implemented by a majority of Members. They have led to 3,238,000 householders, who were also required to absorb increased fuel prices, being £3.43 worse off. They mean that 3,238,000 householders were unable to achieve an affordable warmth last winter, and will have less money for fuel this winter, and their fuel poverty will be intensified.

That fuel poverty will be further compounded by a British Gas with the sole objective of getting the highest return on capital and bonanza dividends for shareholders, a British Gas that no longer has a social role towards the poor, the low-income groups, the elderly, and the disabled, whose dependancy has beem described as a deadly drug. That mercenary attitude has already been emulated by the Central Electricity Generating Board, even before it has been stolen from the public.

The Government's security changes and the privatisation of fuel supplies have created an alien environment, an environment that can kill, when, without compunction, gas is disconnected as British Gas intensifies its policy of making life hard for the low-income customer, whom it considers troublesome, as they use little gas and generate high administration costs

In our so-called civilised society, there is a hostile and dangerous environment where the elderly and low-income families with young children are at risk of fires or explosions, as they continue to use dangerous cooking and heating appliances. They are frightened to have them checked, and are unable to replace them if they are condemned as unsafe. Day by day, they are forced to live with that worry and fear. It threatens their health and well-being, and it exists because what can be described only as a usurer Government have abolished a special payments system and replaced it with a cash-limited loans fund.

As we near the end of this Session of Parliament, the subject that dominates the conversation is the holiday plans of Members and their families—plans that may have been in the pipeline a year or perhaps months, and that contrast starkly with the unmade plans of millions in our impoverished society. They cannot plan a year ahead, a week ahead or even a day ahead, and they fear what lies five months ahead to winter. They are unemployed; elderly; retired; they are sick; disabled or are families with young children. Their circumstances force them to spend 13 hours a day in their homes. They will spend 20 per cent. of their income on fuel. They will exist in temperatures that would not be acceptable to a shop worker, a factory worker or an office worker and would most certainly be unacceptable to the majority of hon. Members.

Those millions fear what is five months ahead, when winter is with us, because we force them to live in circumstances that contrast so extremely with ours, here in this cosseted, centrally-heated seat of Government. This coming winter, they will exist in a Government-created hell, without heat, which will result in 30,000 deaths. They will die of cold—and it will not be on the ski slopes, and they will not be buried under a snow avalanche. They will die simply because their Government stole their heat.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Hughes, Mr. Dave Nellist, Mr. Ronnie Campbell, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mrs. Audrey Wise, Mr. Win Griffiths, Mr. Pat Wall, Mr. Terry Fields, Mr. Bob Cryer, Ms. Mildred Gordon, Mr. Harry Barnes and Mr. Tony Banks.