HC Deb 13 February 1990 vol 167 cc157-9 4.33 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; to establish local authority monitoring committees; to facilitate the effective insulation of the homes of those on low incomes; and for connected purposes. The hardship, the risk to life from hypothermia experienced by the elderly, the sick, single-parent families, the unemployed and the disabled in 6 million homes affected by fuel poverty is exacerbated by the fuel industries' wanton use of the legal system and the courts.

By means of an early-day motion, I have already drawn to the attention of the House an example of this and its effect on my constitutent, Mr. Quigley, of 8 Loach drive, Coventry. Mr. Quigley, an elderly pensioner, was pursued by British Gas with the voracity of Shylock; British Gas arrayed the full legal system against this elderly pensioner. Solicitors and magistrates took control of Mr. Quigley's meagre pension. He had no say in the matter.

Without considering whether the imposition of the technically correct legal decision would place Mr. Quigley at risk from hypothermia, the magistrate arranged to have £352.66 deducted from Mr. Quigley's pension for the cost of the magistrate's adjudication and the value of the gas used by two other British Gas customers. After the wheels of justice had turned, Mr. Quigley's £141.83 bill became an alarming bill for £499.49.

It is a case which illustrates that magistrates, like justice, are blind: blind to the circumstances that affect the millions of people on whom they pass judgment. It is a blindness which prevails in this House and which many hours of debate have failed to change. The House is affected by what can only be described as a multi-sense impairment which exceeds even that of the brass monkeys. The House refuses to see the problem; the House refuses to hear about the problem; The House refuses to discuss the problem. The House refuses to feel the problem by taking up my suggestion and shutting off the heat in the Commons to enable every Member of Parliament to experience the killing cold that affects 6 million households. And the House refuses to use the other sense associated with the heart, the caring sense of compassion.

If we sat in this Chamber without heat for only a few hours we might sense the cold that immobility induces—the cold endured by my disabled constituent, Martin Jenkins, of 134, Longfield house, whose circumstances are the lot of many disabled people. Confined to a tenancy on the 10th floor of a high-rise block, he is no longer receiving any extra heating allowance. In winter he is continually under financial stress and his limited income is dissipated combating bad insulation and major heat loss through plywood walls and the extreme cold at that high level.

Martin's circumstances and those of Mr. Quigley, although painful, are not unique. There are Martins and Mr. Quigleys in every constituency and they are crying out for help. They, I am sure, welcome my suggestion that the heating should be switched off in the House of Commons, just as they would welcome the opportunity of experiencing the temperatures that we enjoy. We could do that by giving them more money or by allowing them to use heat without fear of disconnection. In the meantime, until the House adopt that course, we could convey the temperature that we enjoy by showing it on the television screens every time Parliament is televised.

Unfortunately, my representation or the House's consideration of my Fuel and Energy Provision Bill will be of no benefit to Mr. John Bowling, whose death I heard reported on my car radio as I drove to the Commons. As far as I am aware, his death was acknowledged as the first death from hypothermia this winter. On 30 November, council caretakers found Mr. Bowling on the floor dead when they broke into his flat. The inquest reported that he had died of hypothermia—time of death unknown. The report of Mr. Bowling's circumstances and his anonymity should wring even the hardest heart. The comments of Sergeant Canning of Luton police carried a tragic message. None of the residents could say anything about Mr. Bowling. They had not seen him for some time. They could not remember when they last saw him. They could remember him only as the man who lived at No. 131.

That is not a fitting epitaph for John Bowling. The House should cry for him and should do its best to ensure that there are no more such deaths. The tragic end of John Bowling should be the beginning of a campaign by the House against hypothermia which puts the lives of our elderly constituents at risk every winter.

My Fuel and Energy Provision Bill, which is a small step towards that objective, needs the support of the House and that is why I am writing to every Conservative Member, asking for support. On previous occasions my Bill failed to get a Second Reading because only one Member objected. The reasoning behind that deliberate block is difficult to understand. What can be described only as a national disaster is being ignored by the House. Surely there can be no issue more important than saving the lives of elderly citizens.

My letter to each Member and my campaign messages are headed by the budgerigar, a bird particularly sensitive to the cold. That bird played a significant part in saving the life of an elderly lady. I hope that it will move the Government to take measures to save thousands of lives.

Question put and agreed to.

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

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Watch those Gradgrinds on the Tory Benches.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Sedentary remarks do not help us at all.