HC Deb 21 July 2000 vol 354 cc691-709

Amendment made: No. 52, in page 2, line 31, at beginning insert— '( ) In this Act "local authority" means—

  1. (a) in relation to England, the council of a county, district or London borough, the Common Council of the City of London or the Council of the Isles of Scilly, and
  2. (b) in relation to Wales, the council of a county or county borough.'.—[Mr. Amess.]

Order for Third Reading read.

12.6 pm

Mr. Amess

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This is an historic and wonderful moment for all those who will benefit from the Bill now and in future. We began our deliberations in the winter. We are now enjoying glorious sunshine, but it will soon be winter again, and that is when people will really benefit from the Bill.

I dedicate the Bill to the memory of Mr. Joe Kracy—a constituent who died in a cold home. I also dedicate it to the memory of my former colleague, Michael Colvin, and his wife Nichola. They died in dreadful circumstances. He was a sponsor of the Bill and felt very strongly about the plight of senior citizens.

My role has been very small. I explained ad nauseam on Second Reading how I came to adopt the Bill. I am only too delighted that I have been able to fulfil the dreams and aspirations of those who have worked on the matter for a very long time. I wish to thank a long list of people, but I shall be quick about it. I would be churlish not to thank the Minister. He has been delighted to respond to the various points that have been made during the past eight months. I particularly want to thank the Minister for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), who has been very supportive of the Bill, and I am grateful to him for that.

Although I referred to the discussions with Lord Whitty, I thank him, too. I thank all the officials at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. They have worked very hard in drafting Bills and in helping me with this measure.

I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), who has been championed today by my right hon. Friends the Members for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), but he is no less a man for that. I thank him and congratulate him on the fact that his original Bill has come to fruition in this measure. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mrs. Gilroy) has been very supportive throughout.

I wish to thank many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, especially my hon. Friends the Members for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman), for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). I am sure that I have missed out some hon. Friends, but I do not wish to cause offence. I thank also my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), who has been supportive from the outset.

I wish to thank Mr. Martin Williams and the campaign for the warm homes Bill, who have been magnificent throughout the Bill's passage. I wish to thank Jenny Saunders for her wonderful support and briefing. I wish to thank Help the Aged, Age Concern and the National Pensioners Convention; I had the privilege of meeting the 50 senior citizens recently. I wish to thank also the Association for the Conservation of Energy.

I wish to thank a number of companies, such as N-Power—a subsidiary of National Power—which recently set up a private sector initiative to address fuel poverty. I thank Transco—and I suppose that if I waited a little longer, there would be another company; but under no circumstances do I wish to delay the Bill.

I wish to thank all hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), who has not been well recently but has been a great supporter of the Bill. I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim (Mr. Beggs) in the Chamber also, as he has been a great supporter. It would be churlish not mention the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) and his Liberal Democrat colleagues, who have been supportive as well.

Mr.Ivor Caplin (Hove)

In his long list of thank-yous—which sounds more and more like an Oscar speech—will the hon. Gentleman, given the comments of his right hon. Friends the Members for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), include Friends of the Earth?

Mr. Amess

I think that the hon. Gentleman has done that for me.

As with all Members of Parliament, I came into politics to make a difference. We have made a difference with this Bill today. I do not always think that the House does the right thing, but it has today and I am delighted.

12.12 pm
Mr. Barron

I congratulate the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) on, I hope, getting the Bill on to the statute book. I have had an interest in energy for a long time, even before I came to this House. I think that the United Kingdom is so energy-rich that it feels it can waste energy at an enormous rate. We are often described as an island built on coal and we are surrounded by oil and gas, but we use energy so wastefully.

One area of concern is the interpretation of fuel poverty. Who are the fuel poor? Poverty in this country will never go away because it is a relative measure between rich and poor. To anyone who says that they will eradicate poverty, I say "Good luck—you will probably be chasing your tail."

I was pleased that the Minister approved earlier when someone said that this was not simply an issue of those who were on certain state benefits. For decades now, we have tried to deal with the fuel poor by schemes such as the home energy efficiency scheme. However, its application on the ground has been directed mainly to people on state benefits or other means-tested benefits and not at the overall problems of fuel poverty. Home insulation is a very effective way of saving on domestic fuel bills, but past schemes have been targeted at households according to income. I hope that we will have a more efficient interpretation of who the fuel poor are; as a consequence, we can be more effective in intervention.

It is time we considered energy conservation more seriously. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), who is no longer in his place, referred earlier to solar heating. Insulation is probably the most cost-effective way of saving on fuel bills, but solar energy could be used to alleviate fuel poverty in years to come. As for photovoltaic cells on domestic homes, I have not yet progressed that far. The problem of storing the energy gained from the sun and using it when we want it in domestic households has not quite been solved yet.

I have had solar panels on my home for nearly a decade. In July and August in particular, we rarely—if ever—use any energy source from fossil fuel for our domestic water needs. In July and August—although this July has been an exception—all our water is normally heated by the sun. There is quite a large capital outlay at the beginning, but afterwards, other than the small cost of an electricity motor, quite large savings can be made on energy costs. In addition, as most of it is renewable energy, there is a big saving in terms of conservation.

We may be energy-rich for the present, but gas and oil will not always be around. The Bill is a way forward. It will bring energy conservation into the debate in a way that has been lacking for a long time in this energy-rich country.

I congratulate everyone who has been involved in the Bill. I hope that when the Minister—it may be a different one, but I hope that it will still be a Labour Minister—considers the potential of this measure, the timetable will be much shorter than 15 years.

Ms Debra Shipley (Stourbridge)

The commission for architecture and the built environment was set up by the Government under the chairmanship of Stuart Lipton. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a very good idea if it was in CABE' s brief to look closely at initiatives to do with energy efficiency in homes wherever public money is being spent in large amounts? Does he agree that there should be a provision in all new measures to include such consideration by CABE?

Mr. Barron

That is absolutely true. In northern European countries such as Denmark, where new buildings are situated is taken into account, as is whether windows or doors on a gable end get the north wind. Such considerations are important when it comes to keeping a home warm.

Finally, I congratulate the hon. Member for Southend, West and the House as well. I sincerely believe that the Bill has great potential for energy conservation and for alleviating fuel poverty. I am not sure about the measurement of fuel poverty. Twenty years ago, it was quite easy to know whether people's gas or electricity supply was cut off. Indeed, there was—and, in theory, still is —protection for households with young children so that they were not cut off.With the advent of credit meters in the past decade, however, we do not know who the fuel poor are, or whether homes with small children are being cut off by self-cut-off. We must do something to protect those families and children. There is plenty that we can do, and the Bill is a good way to start.

12.20 pm
Mr. Brake

I have a few points to make. It is worth remembering why the Bill is needed, and we have heard of the 45,000 extra winter deaths that may arise as a result of fuel poverty. Deaths rise by 30 per cent. in the United Kingdom in winter, which compares badly with a 10 per cent. increase in some Scandinavian countries.

It is also worth outlining what we hope the Bill will achieve. After perhaps 10 rather than 15 years, we hope for an end to unnecessary deaths. We expect to save the national health service £1 billion through reduced cold-related illnesses. The Bill will clearly assist the Government in achieving their climate change targets and reducing CO2 emissions. In the long-term, there is potential for 30,000 jobs, and the savings to the Exchequer will be in the order of £300 million.

I welcome the changes that the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) has made to accommodate other hon. Members and to win support from both sides for his important Bill. Congratulations are due to him—he has perhaps been a little too self-deprecating—and to others, including the hon. Members for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) and for Plymouth, Sutton (Mrs. Gilroy), who played key roles in the warm homes campaign, and Friends of the Earth and other organisations.

The degree of civilisation of any society can be measured by a number of yardsticks. How we treat asylum seekers, how we treat senior citizens and how tolerant we are of different beliefs are among them, and we may add to that list how we deal with fuel poverty. All hon. Members should be proud to be associated with a Bill that will, we hope, within 10 years—perhaps a little longer—provide everyone with a warm home. I urge all hon. Members to support it.

12.23 pm
Mrs. Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)

I support this important Bill. One of the first things that new Members learn is how difficult it is to put a private Member's Bill through the House. We should therefore congratulate the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) and the House on a superb Bill.

I was interested in this issue throughout my many years in local government. Many reports were published during the 1980s, and it is sad that it has taken so long to address the problem. It is good to see it addressed today. Given the consensus in the House, I shall suspend my cynicism by welcoming the conversion to the cause of the right hon. Members for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean).

In the 1980s, I read a report by Strathclyde regional council—as it then was—on the domino effect of poverty. Fuel poverty seriously damages people's health and education. As a former teacher, I can say that we never know how difficult it is for children who live in damp, cold homes to spend any time studying their books. Things got much worse between 1979 and 1997. Many more people in local authority homes suffered from the problems inherent in the systems building of the 1950s, '60s and '70s.

Fuel poverty is suffered by people unable to afford to keep their homes adequately warm. It is often a result of inadequate insulation, and poor people become even poorer because they pay more for heat that leaves through windows, walls, doors and floors. The Bill should help tackle that.

As a result of fuel poverty, an average 30,000 more people die each winter than would normally be expected, and 90 per cent. of them are over 60. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr.Brake) noted that the figure was lower in Scandinavian countries, where homes are better heated and insulated.

Fuel poverty is a major problem in Scotland, but the housing committee of the Scottish Executive will address the issue over the next few months. I hope that it will adopt the approach exemplified in the Bill.

The consequences of fuel poverty are misery, discomfort, ill health and debt. Pensioners, lone-parent families, the long-term ill or disabled and people on low incomes and in poor housing are the most vulnerable, but I welcome and support the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron). The problem is not confined to people on benefit. Many others spend a great proportion of their income on fuel costs, and that is one reason why the Bill is so important.

The Government have done much already to tackle fuel poverty. Legislation is one approach, but other options exist. A great deal of money has been given to housing associations, through local authorities, for housing investment. The winter fuel payments have been increased, and the new guidelines have been issued to ensure that the provisions of the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 are implemented and monitored. Without such monitoring, it is impossible to know how successful legislation is.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)

Is not the great advantage of the Bill that every penny will go into heating homes, rather than the atmosphere?

Mrs. McKenna

That is right, and it will also help to achieve the Government's Kyoto targets.

Mr. David Stewart (Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber)

For many years, my hon. Friend was president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. What was her experience of fuel poverty at that time?

Mrs. McKenna

I remember that I visited the House for the first time in connection with a Bill on housing. In the 1980s, COSLA pleaded with the Conservative Government to recognise the importance of fuel poverty and to make available the resources needed to tackle it. I was housing convener in my local authority, and my top priority was to get homes heated. Giving people who cannot afford them warm, energy-efficient homes changes their lives dramatically, by reducing the proportion of income spent on heating. The effect is huge.

Mr.David Drew (Stroud)

Does my hon. Friend agree that energy efficiency is an important factor in allowing older people to stay longer in their homes? Is not the Bill part of an important overall strategy?

Mrs. McKenna

My hon. Friend makes an important point. As I quickly found out when I was a housing convenor, many older people want to remain in their own homes. They do not all want smaller houses or sheltered accommodation, but are happier staying in the family home. This important measure will help such older people. We need greater flexibility in tackling the problems of housing for the elderly.

The inter-ministerial group on fuel poverty is extremely important. If we are serious about dealing with issues across the spectrum, we need groups such as that. The group's terms of reference are to take a strategic overview, to ensure that policies and initiatives with a bearing on fuel poverty are co-ordinated across Government and integrated with the activities of relevant external bodies, such as regulators and the energy industry.

Those initiatives, and measures such as the Bill, will ensure that we really tackle fuel poverty in this country.

Mr. Forth

The hon. Lady used the words "in this country". She is presumably aware that clause 3(3) states: This Act extends to England and Wales only. The measure thus has nothing to do with Scotland. I am sure that the hon. Lady understands that, and that all her comments are directed wholly to England and Wales.

Mrs. McKenna

The right hon. Gentleman might have noticed that I pointed out that the Scottish Executive was looking into the matter. I also said that I hoped that it would take the measure on board when it was deciding how to tackle fuel poverty in Scotland. I am certainly well aware of the Bill's provisions.

I am not as sensitive as the right hon. Gentleman. When I say "this country", I am talking about Great Britain, of which Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland are integral parts, although there is devolved government. I do not have a problem with that. I hope that when we have regional government in England, regional bodies will be able to address fuel poverty in their areas.

I again congratulate the hon. Member for Southend, West on this excellent Bill. Much can be achieved without legislation, but this measure will be important in tackling fuel poverty in the country.

12.33 pm
Mrs. Ewing

I thank the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr.Amess) for his kind comments earlier. I hope that he, his colleagues and other hon. Members will support the all-party warm homes group, of which I had the pleasure to be a member. I was the first convenor of the group and have been succeeded by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson). The group has gleaned much information and gives great support to Members. Hon. Members will be glad to hear that the Scottish Parliament is setting up a similar group—as, no doubt, will the Welsh Assembly.

I remember the polar bear incident at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, and the occasion when we delivered hundredweights of ice cubes to the Department of Health. The issue crossed many departmental boundaries. Incidentally, the young man in the polar bear suit lost two or three pounds in weight on that day.

It is appropriate that we are discussing this subject on a hot day—some people are probably thinking about air conditioning. However, we should not discuss fuel poverty only during the winter months, when Ministers and politicians are more acutely aware of the problems faced by so many of our people. We should not think about such matters only when Jack Frost blows a chill through the hall; the issue should be addressed every day and never allowed to leave our consciences.

I am delighted that the definition of fuel poverty has been reinserted into the Bill today. Fuel poverty is a scourge for far too many of our citizens, affecting, in particular, the elderly and the disabled. When I was first elected to the House in 1974, I began to pursue the issue. Like others, I have consistently striven to heighten awareness of the problem. When I first raised the issue of excess winter deaths in the period from 1974 to 1979, I was publicly accused of scaremongering because it was said that elderly people were frightened to turn on their electric fires. It has taken a long time in the development of the psyche of the political body to absorb the realities of what we have said for many years. It is not a new issue and it did not come in with any particular Government. The problem has existed for a very long time.

When I first asked questions about excess winter deaths, the problem was defined as hypothermia and I was told that only people who had died on Snowdon, the mountains of Scotland and in the Lake district were recorded as dying from the cold. However, we know from the death certificates of the elderly and the hatches, matches and dispatches columns of any newspaper that, in January and February, the lists of people dying get longer and longer. It is usually the elderly that are affected. As the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) said, we live in an energy rich country, but such deaths are the stark reality.

It has been a fair fecht for the hon. Member for Southend, West and the sponsors to get the Bill to this stage. I congratulate everyone who has worked with passion and determination to help to eradicate such a terrible blight on our social conscience. I also thank all the voluntary, statutory and private organisations that have worked behind the scenes for many years and supported our efforts and supported the Bill.

I say to the right hon. Members for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean)—they are sitting on my right, and probably my extreme right—that one does not always have to accept the advice that is given by organisations. Such advice is offered, but we have a responsibility, as Members of the House, to analyse information carefully and to carry it forward into the legislative programme. The right hon. Gentlemen have not examined the problem of excess winter deaths throughout the United Kingdom. I have supported the Bill even though I realise that it does not apply to Scotland.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

Nor to Northern Ireland.

Mrs. Ewing

As the hon. Gentleman points out, it does not apply to Northern Ireland, either.

We now have our own way of doing things in Scotland, but it is my sincere hope, as someone who has served in the House for a long time, that we shall exchange ideas and co-operate on matters that affect all our citizens. I have never wavered in my principled belief that legislators throughout the United Kingdom have a huge responsibility on our shoulders to address this issue.

I sat through the statement on the comprehensive spending review. Nothings spilled out of the Chancellor's mouth and I found it very difficult to understand the figures that he gave. Talking in billions does not mean much to people who are not economic experts. We have to take the numbers that emerge and turn them into reality for our people. Although we have financial obligations to everyone who pays tax, there are moral obligations on those of us who are elected to serve.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Southend, West and his sponsors on bringing the Bill to fruition. It is not the end of the story, but it is part of a process and a good beginning.

Mr. Alan Simpson

I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) on getting the Bill to this stage. He has been generous in his thanks to other people, but we should not kid ourselves about the part that he has played. The truth of the matter is that the Bill was almost dead in its tracks on at least two occasion in the process of getting to the House. To a large extent, it is down to the hon. Gentleman's skill, diplomacy and commitment to steering between competing interests, fishing the Bill out from the sidelines of the political process and putting it back in the mainstream that we have the opportunity to turn the Bill into legislation today. The whole House owes him a debt of gratitude for his persistence in refusing to allow the Bill to be sidelined, as it might have been.

The hon. Gentleman deserves the right to have the Bill go on to the statute book in his name, and it is proper that he should give credit to those who played a part in bringing it to this stage. However, perhaps he ought to have added one or two names to his list. My own involvement in the parliamentary campaign goes back to the work of Sir John Hannam, a Conservative Member who first drew the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) and me into the all-party warm homes group, and who was already campaigning for such a measure when I came to Parliament. An important role was also played by Baroness Maddock, who was successful in a ballot and took the matter forward a further stage. It is a tribute to the persistence and commitment of Members of different parties that we have kept the issue here and, hopefully, will see it through to the statute book.

The real ownership of the Bill will belong not to the House, but to the people whose lives are saved and extended and whose quality of life is improved by the measures that will be set out in the programme that will follow the Bill. I will not add more plaudits to those that have been given to Friends of the Earth, as I understand that its phone lines are already jammed with new subscribers. However, I want to thank those who have pestered us, as excess deaths from fuel poverty have been—and continue to be—a scandal that should have been removed from the UK's political landscape long ago.

In my own case, more than 20 years ago I was waylaid by a young reporter working for the Nottingham Evening Post called David Lowe, who dragged me around houses where people were leading impoverished lives in the most miserably poor conditions. Almost single-handedly, he took up the old and cold campaign for the Evening Post and bombarded politicians with stories of outrageous housing neglect and housing poverty that demanded answers. The Evening Post has continued that campaign and, almost every week, politicians of all parties within its circulation area have a sense of being pestered by the question "When are you going to come up with the comprehensive programme that will deal with fuel poverty and eliminate it as a scar on the social landscape?"

Ms Linda Perham (Ilford, North)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the issue has fired our constituents, if I can use such a term? I have continued to receive representations about supporting the Bill. After a meeting at 10 o'clock on Wednesday evening, someone even came up and urged me to support the Bill today. In England, Wales and throughout the country, people have taken an interest in the matter and are pleased that the Bill is going through today.

Mr. Simpson

Absolutely. I would just add that my own experience is in precisely that context. Councillor Brian Parbutt, the deputy leader of Nottingham city council, said to me this morning, "For goodness' sake, get the Bill through today." Almost every local authority in the land is waiting for the House to give a green light for a remit-cum-instruction so that they can go ahead and address the problem comprehensively and so improve considerably the quality in life of people in their own constituencies and local areas.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South)

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that, just like Nottingham, parts of Coventry have had the experiences that he described. Does he agree that the Bill is vital, given the fluctuations in fuel prices in this country and across the globe?

Mr. Simpson

I agree that the Bill is vital in terms of fuel prices, but it will also allow a massive release of imagination. Houses have been built in Newark and Sherwood with an annual fuel bill of no more than £17 a year. That is warm homes by design, not by changing the price of fuel. In south London, houses have been converted so that they now receive net cash payments from the grid because they put more energy back into the process than they take out.

The Bill gives us an incredible opportunity to put energy conservation alongside the elimination of fuel poverty and the blighting of people's lives, and it does so in ways that will create jobs, save energy and save lives. It will allow young people to become part of the solution to energy and fuel poverty problems. For that we should all be grateful.

Mr. Maclean

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) on getting his Bill to the Third Reading stage. It has not been easy for him, and I am one of those who have not made it easy for him. I hope that he agrees that he now has a better Bill, which exceeds his expectations. He has not had an easy time today because he has had to move amendments and accept other amendments. He has done so graciously, given the circumstances.

I also congratulate the Minister on being gracious at the Dispatch Box. This might not have been the best day for him, as he has had to perform a few somersaults. I am not gloating about it—at least not until I issue the press release. The Minister and the Minister for the Environment graciously accepted the suggestions that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and I made to improve the Bill. The Minister has had to put back in the Bill things that he took out in Committee, and he has done that remarkably well.

Exactly a month ago, on 21 June, my right hon. Friend and I, having looked at the Bill again, concluded that because of the changes made in Committee the Bill was a sham. We decided to write to the Minister for the Environment and offer him a deal. I shall not quote from the letter that we sent to him, but a statement that we issued on that day said: The Government have a simple choice—either it can discuss with us— my right hon. Friend and I— sensible amendments to the Warm Homes Bill or it can wreck this Bill on Friday 21st July and, with it, the following Bill. The press statement went on: Our amendments seek to restore integrity to the Bill and people in cold homes…will not understand it if the Government stubbornly refuses to find a middle way. We said that the items that we would like to see restored in the Bill were the term "comprehensive package" in relation to the measure to be taken to reduce cold homes…references to fuel poverty…a specific reference in the Bill to consultation with (a) Local Authorities and (b) Those…believed to be in, fuel poverty…a power…to make regulations. A key amendment—we thought that the timing might be a bit tricky but I am grateful that the Minister accepted it—was to put back in the Bill the 15-year target date. That is the offer that we made to the Government and I am pleased that they accepted it. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West was also keen that that should happen.

That process shows this House of Commons at its best. Simply because of how private Members' legislation had gone during the year, my right hon. Friend and I knew that we had a strong negotiating position with the Government—well, we hoped that we had. We have therefore managed to put back into the Bill those items that had been deleted, and one that had not been included, by making the Government an offer that they could not refuse: either accept the proposals, which would put teeth back into the Bill, or lose the Bill. Make no mistake, I would have been happily on my feet blocking the Bill if it had not had restored to it the 15-year target date and the other essential provisions that we have sensibly restored today, because I would have considered it to be a sham Bill.

Mr. Forth

Having said that, is my right hon. Friend puzzled that Friends of the Earth was apparently prepared to accept the Bill without it containing anything of substance? How does he explain that?

Mr. Maclean

I was going to conclude my remarks by dealing with that subject.

After my right hon. Friend and I wrote to the Minister for the Environment and issued a statement saying that we wanted to do a deal with the Government to restore the provisions, a remarkable thing happened. In my surgery, way up in Carlisle, 300 miles from London, a representative of Friends of the Earth arrived to see me. During our discussion, she revealed that, if I would do a deal with Friends of the Earth and enable it to hitch a ride on the back of our amendments, it would run a campaign urging people not to let the Government off the hook and switch its attack entirely to the constituency of the Minister for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher). She said, "We will switch our people into Meacher's constituency and try to make sure that he backs down."

Perhaps I should have taken up the offer, but I was so taken aback that I declined. My main reason for doing so was that if the organisation was so ready to stitch up a reasonable man like the Minister for the Environment, I stood little chance of being able to trust it. I share that account with the House because it is one of the reasons why I have been mentioning Friends of the Earth so much today, and other hon. Members might not have been aware of that organisation's role.

The Minister present today and his right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment are decent people and good parliamentarians. More than anything else, that episode convinced me that, if we were to change the Bill, it had to be done in the House, with the agreement of Ministers, Government Back Benchers and Opposition Back Benchers. This is our Parliament: if we let Bills be changed by outside organisations, no matter how well-meaning they are, we give up our parliamentary rights. Today, in the agreement between parliamentarians from the Labour party, the Conservative party, the Scottish National party, the Ulster Unionist party, and even the Liberal Democrat party, we have seen Parliament doing its job. We, the parliamentarians, with the Ministers' agreement, have decided what goes into the Bill.

All the measures that we have put into the Bill today have been welcomed by Members on both sides of the House, yet, in respect of every single one of those measures, I have a letter telling me not to do it. Friends of the Earth told me that if we moved any of our amendments restoring the provisions that Parliament has welcomed today, it would be a wrecking move—it was not necessary and it should not be done. That is the other reason why I have mentioned that organisation so extensively today: it has not helped us at all in our efforts to restore to the Bill those measures that we thought essential. I do not know what Friends of the Earth's agenda is: I suspect it wanted the headline, "We have a warm homes Bill", but did not care about the content.

I congratulate Government Members, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, my Front-Bench colleagues and the Minister, because Parliament has cared about the Bill's contents. When I spoke to the first group of amendments, I took the number of Government Back Benchers who were nodding to be a good sign. Colleagues on both sides do not want a sham Bill: we want it to contain figures and targets so that we can judge what the Government have achieved and whether or not they have succeeded. Our changes are not merely semantic improvements; they put into the Bill provisions that everyone outside thought were already in it—provisions that had appeared in the Bills promoted by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) and the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and had once been in the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West.

I conclude that today has been a good day for parliamentary democracy and it has shown the House at its best. Once again, I congratulate the Under-Secretary for his manner at the Dispatch Box, which has been extremely gracious considering the way in which we have made him go through a few wee hoops. I am grateful.

12.54 pm
Mr. Austin

I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) and pay tribute to the way in which he has guided the Bill through Parliament.

It is not an easy task to get a private Member's Bill through. In the previous Parliament, when there was a Conservative Government, I managed to get a private Member's Bill through, with the support of that Government. The hon. Member for Southend, West acknowledged the support that he has had from the Government in getting this Bill through. I should add that my task was somewhat easier, as the right hon. Members for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) were members of the Conservative Government, so I did not face the same difficulties as some of my hon. Friends have had in trying to get their Bills through in this Session.

I also pay tribute to those who pioneered similar Bills previously, such as my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) and for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon). I should mention the former hon. Member for Ceredigion, Cynog Dafis, for the work that he did in this regard.

I am sorry that other Bills dealing with energy conservation, such as those of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford), which appear later on the Order Paper and which will not be reached, have not had such an easy passage as this Bill. I hope that those Bills will return to us in the next Session.

I shall deal with the comments that have been made about Friends of the Earth, as I regard some of those remarks as scurrilous. If it had not been for organisations such as Friends of the Earth campaigning out there in the community, outside Parliament, we may not have been where we are today.

On the subject of misleading information, I believe that to suggest that there has been only one death in Bromley because of cold is misleading. It ignores the fact that cold is a contributory factor to deaths from respiratory illnesses—asthma, influenza, pneumonia, bronchitis—and heart attacks, strokes and many more.

As the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) pointed out, there are 30, 000 more deaths in this country in the winter than in the summer. That is a frightening statistic, which should be compared with other statistics that have been quoted from colder climates than ours, including Scandinavia. I draw attention to the statistics cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on Second Reading, which show how the excess of winter deaths increases with age.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mrs. McKenna) spelled out the package of measures that the Government have introduced to tackle fuel poverty—the reduction in VAT, the expansion of the home energy efficiency scheme, the fuel allowances, and housing investment. All those are good measures.

I particularly welcome the HEES programme. I visited the 5,000th home in my constituency to be insulated last year. It happened to be on the hottest day of the year, but Mr. and Mrs. Baker have been back to the House to visit since the winter, and I know the benefits that they have derived from sound insulation measures. The expansion of that programme will bring about cost savings and warm homes, and will create jobs as well.

We had a discussion on Second Reading about whether the wind chill factor was important. The draught chill factor certainly is important. Anyone who has ever lived in a draughty home will know that no matter how high one turns up the heating, one still does not get warm.

The debate has concentrated on the elderly, but I believe that this is a children's Bill, too. If my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Audrey Wise) were present, she would agree, as she has campaigned on the issue. I hope that all hon. Members will join me in saying that we hope to see my hon. Friend back after the recess, restored to good health.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) mentioned disconnections and self-disconnections through fuel poverty, which affect many families with young children. As a grandfather of three children under five—two in the south-east and one in the frozen north—I am aware of the importance of the Bill to children.

The hon. Member for Southend, West is right—there does not need to be a regional definition built into the Bill, because fuel poverty is a combination of fuel costs and income. The Bill will go a long way towards reducing waste, helping energy conservation, and contributing to a reduction in the unnecessary generation of greenhouse gases. I hope that the inter-ministerial group will consider seriously the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) with regard to solar energy and renewable energy.

Hon. Members have mentioned expenditure; the Bill is a spend and save measure. It may mean expenditure, but it will contribute to great savings in energy consumption and pollution. Most of all, it will contribute enormously to the quality of life and to reductions in unnecessary burdens on the national health service.

1 pm

Sir Sydney Chapman

When I had the privilege of speaking on Second Reading on 10 March, I said that we seemed to be indulging in an all-party love-in because there was so much support for the Bill from all parties. Like the new footbridge across the Thames, that love has seemed to wobble a little in the past four months. However, I am glad that we are now back on track.

I join other hon. Members in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) for piloting the Bill—I hope successfully—through the House and on to the statute book. I also pay tribute to the hon. Members for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) and for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), who promoted similar Bills in previous Sessions or Parliaments. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Nottingham, South referred to Sir John Hannam, our former colleague, and his great interest in the subject.

I have been immensely impressed by and supportive of the Bill since I read several articles by Mr. Andrew Warren, the director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy. I first took an interest in the matter when, many moons ago, I was a practising chartered architect.

We can treat statistics however we want, but a cursory examination of mortality figures shows that in our country, there are 30 per cent. more deaths in the winter months than in other months. Those excess deaths must be partly caused by cold. It is interesting to observe that in Scandinavian countries, which have a colder climate, there are far fewer excess deaths. It is therefore apparent to many hon. Members from all parties that the problem must be tackled.

We now realise that Parliament can and should tackle the problem. I am proud to support the Bill; I hope that it will reach the statute book. I am proud that we will have been able to do so much to tackle the inequalities of health. Although the Bill will be costly—so costly that it is good that precise figures have not put on it—I believe that the money will be well invested for the people of our country.

1.3 pm

Mr.Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) on promoting the Bill, and on his work to create warmer homes in this country. He was a high profile supporter of the previous Government's policy on privatising our energy suppliers, and thanks to his support and that of other hon. Friends, there has subsequently been a 29 per cent. drop in electricity and gas prices.

Promoting a private Member's Bill is difficult; it requires tact and diplomacy, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his achievement. He has high hopes for the Bill, which has been greatly improved by the efforts of my right hon. Friends the Members for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean). I wish the Bill well, and I hope that it achieves its high aims.

1.4 pm

Mr. Forth

I endorse the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), but I shall not repeat them. It is important that people know how the Bill came about, and I thoroughly endorse my right hon. Friend's remarks about the importance of the parliamentary process and his injunction that we should not pay too much attention to single-interest, well financed groups outside the House.

When the Minister winds up, will he tell us whether he stands by his words during the money resolution debate? He said: The Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Bill…enshrines current commitments and mirrors measures that we already have in hand. For that reason, we do not believe that anything in the Bill would increase public expenditure above and beyond current commitments.—[Official Report, 4 April 2000; Vol. 347, c. 945-6.] The Minister said that on 4 April, and of course I believed him. This morning the Bill was amended on Report and now, on Third Reading, we are considering a measure remarkably similar to the one that we discussed on 4 April.

I would be interested—and I am sure that other right hon. and hon. Members and people outside the House would be interested—in whether the Minister stands by what he said on 4 April about the Bill in its then form, or whether he would like to alter anything that he said on that day. That would be extremely useful, as it would put his remarks in context. I hope that the Minister will respond to that question when he replies to the debate.

Let me repeat what my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border said. I too am grateful to the Minister, and the Minister for the Environment, for taking such a positive attitude and for responding to proper parliamentary process—or indeed, pressure—in the context of this private Member's Bill. I should like the Minister to say that he has not been remotely impressed by outside pressure but took due account of parliamentary pressure—but that might be asking a little too much, and I am not over-optimistic. However, I leave him with that thought. Having said that, I am happy to support the Bill on Third Reading and to acknowledge the proper parliamentary process that has brought it here.

1.6 pm

Mr. Beggs

I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) on the way in which he has handled the Bill. From the outset he sought widespread support for it in the House, and he achieved that. As has already been said, the way in which he has managed the proceedings throughout has been extremely diplomatic, and I express my appreciation to all right hon. and hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee, participated in the debates in the House and helped to strengthen the Bill so that we now have something of which we can all be proud.

But for devolution, I know that the hon. Gentleman would have included Scotland and Northern Ireland, making the measure apply throughout the United Kingdom. No doubt our colleagues in Northern Ireland and Scotland will learn from the Bill and apply the excellent measures that it provides for. I wish it well.

1.7 pm

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

This is the fourth Friday on which I have come down from Scotland to lend my support to the Bill. In recognition that it covers a devolved matter, will my hon. Friend the Minister ask his officials to get involved in dialogue with the Scottish officials who, I hope, will be dealing with a similar measure, and give them the information that led him to agree to the amendments that have been made today, so that Scotland will get a scheme at least as good as this one, if not better?

1.8 pm

Mr. Green

I add my congratulations to the many that have rightly been given to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), not only for his skill and fortitude in piloting the Bill through its various stages, but for his generosity in spreading the thanks around liberally, showing a great graciousness of purpose. Congratulations are also due to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who have taken a close interest in the progress of the Bill. At times some of them have been regarded as its enemies, but one thing that we have learned during its progress this morning is that the proper use of parliamentary proceedings can and should improve and strengthen legislation as it goes through the parliamentary process.

The principles behind the Bill command widespread support throughout the House, but I take some quiet pride in the fact that it has been piloted to the next stage by someone on the Conservative Benches, and that the most significant change that has been achieved between Second and Third Reading—nailing down the Government to a 15-year target—also came from pressure from this side. This is not a partisan point, and those of all parties who have taken the closest interest in the Bill will be pleased that the target has been restored. It will prevent this or any future Government from weaselling out of their obligations under the Bill.

That is the best guarantee that we have that the Bill will make a difference. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West made the point that everyone enters the House hoping to make a difference. He has made a difference with the Bill, but it is important to ensure that it makes a difference for millions of people in practice.

The Bill is a significant, positive step. Within the envelope of the attack on fuel poverty, we have heard a lot about the social angle—the obvious improvement to the quality of life of people whose income has forced them to limit the amount that they spend on fuel. That includes not only the elderly but quite often the young, as has been said.

Alongside the direct social benefit of making people's homes warmer, there is an environmental benefit for future generations. The better we insulate our homes, the less we contribute to climate change.

Will the Minister give us some idea about the financing? Various ideas have been suggested, not least by the all-party group, on how to involve private finance in funding the work that will be needed to implement the Bill.

This is a victory for Parliament and its procedures. Our scrutiny revealed some imperfections that have been significantly addressed. One subtlety that has not yet been mentioned is the fact that the time pressure on private Members' Bills allowed my right hon. Friends to put legitimate pressure on Ministers and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) so eloquently said, to make them an offer they could not refuse.

Without that time pressure, there would have been less incentive for the Government to accede to my right hon. Friends' suggestions. To those who are so keen on modernising the procedures of the House, I gently make the point that changes that would let the Government off the hook of having to get legislation through in a certain amount of time could result in less rigorous scrutiny and less effective legislation. I hope that, in the pleasure that is suffusing the whole House because of the practical effects of the Bill, we can also reflect on the lessons that we should learn from its successful improvement between Second and Third Reading.

I hope that the Government will learn another gentle lesson. Clearly, Labour Back Benchers welcome the Bill as much as Opposition Members do, so we can pass legislation that is relevant to the needs of millions of people. Perhaps the Government should concentrate a little less on their more peripheral legislation.

This is an important, well supported Bill, and it is better than it was two months ago or on Second Reading. I supported it on Second Reading, and I am happy to do so again. I fully expect that the Government will do the same and that the Bill will make successful progress.

1.15 pm
Mr. Mullin

I am pleased to support the motion that the Bill be read the Third time. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) on piloting the Bill with such skill, common sense and patience. I thank everyone associated with the Bill. In particular, I acknowledge the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), who was here until a moment ago. He has taken a long-term interest in the issue.

Tackling fuel poverty is a priority for this Government. The Bill will help us to carry forward our work in tackling it in England and Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) asked about Scotland. My Department already co-operates with officials from Scotland, and we shall gladly continue to do so if our help is required. I am sure that the Scots take the issue at least as seriously as we do in England, not least because their weather is somewhat harsher than ours.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) asked whether I stood by what I said in the debate on the money resolution—that the Bill by itself is unlikely to impose an additional charge on public funds. I do stand by that. The Bill will help us to focus attention on what everyone agrees is a very serious problem. It will speed up the way in which we address the problem, and oblige us to set a timetable and a strategy that will make that problem easier to deal with. That is the Bill's strength. Much money is already being spent on combating fuel poverty, but the Bill by itself does not commit us to further funding. We are already spending a great deal on such matters.

Mr. Forth

In that sense, anyone who claims that many extra homes will be heated because of the Bill is obviously not correct.

Mr. Mullin

A good deal of work is already under way, and many extra homes will continue to be heated. My hon. Friends the Members for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mrs. McKenna) and for Erith and Thamesmead (Mr. Austin) referred to some of the work that the Government have already done or have under way. The best known example is the new home energy efficiency scheme, which provides comprehensive packages of heating and insulation improvements to the households most at risk from cold-related ill health—those of the elderly, families on low incomes and the chronically sick. In England, the scheme has cost £260 million in its first two years and is likely to help 460,000 households. Serious money is being spent on a serious problem.

In addition, the Government are spending record sums on tackling the backlog of renovation work needed in social housing. That will provide the opportunity to make a significant impact on tackling fuel poverty. We have increased the winter fuel payments for pensioners by 400 per cent. All these matters—and there are others, too—are relevant to the Government's serious effort to tackle fuel poverty.

I hope that the Government's stance today confirms again that we are serious about the issue. We have shown that we are willing to compromise on the Bill, which we hope becomes law. It demonstrates the constructive and sensible way in which all parties have approached this issue, and that co-operation, for a worthwhile and valuable cause, is gratifying. The Bill will now pass to another place for further consideration in a clear and concise form. I wish it well, and I look forward to its taking its rightful place on the statute book.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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