HL Deb 10 April 1984 vol 450 cc1031-3

2.45 p.m.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows: To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will give consideration to the construction of a cost of warmth index to measure heating needs.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy (The Earl of Avon)

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are studying the recent proposals by the National Right to Fuel Campaign for the construction of a cost of warmth index. We are also examining alternative ways of identifying heating problems of individual low-income households, including the use of existing audit services.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, and for telling us of the information that he has received and is considering from the National Right to Fuel Campaign. Is he aware that the poorest pensioners in our society—that is, those on incomes of less than £50 per week—spend a greater proportion of their income on fuel than the rest of us? I think the figure is 16 per cent., as opposed to 6 per cent. or less for those in the more wealthy groups. Will the noble Earl assure us that the informa-tion on the cost of warmth index that he has just mentioned, from the National Right to Fuel Campaign, will be fed to his right honourable friend in another place during the consideration of the social security system, so that the problems of fuel poverty can be given urgent consideration?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the noble Lord has, indeed, underlined the fact that this is a very difficult problem, and I believe that this report goes to the nub of it. As regards the matter of help with fuel bills, the Government are spending more than ever before: some £380 million in 1983–84 in supplementary benefits for heating additions to around 2½ million recipients.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in most new council house buildings fireplaces are not included? Is this policy not extremely stupid? Will my noble friend not agree that in the event of a power strike old-age pensioners and old people would have no heating at all? Furthermore, if such people live in the country it will be quite easy for them to get hold of firewood—perhaps someone could get firewood for them—which they can burn to keep warm.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I think that it must be for the owner of the house to satisfy himself whether or not he wants a fireplace among the comforts of his house. Many of us are taking the opposite view and are bricking in our fireplaces in order further to insulate our homes.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the Answer which he gave to my noble friend will be very welcome indeed to those of us who have been involved with and know about, through local government, the tragedies which afflict the house-bound and old people simply because they do not have enough money to keep warm in an English winter? It must be a terrible disgrace to our society. When this information is to hand, will the noble Earl make sure that it is not spoilt by cut-backs in local government, whose social service officers find out from those who are house-bound and old the ones who are in need of assistance to keep warm? Because the alternative is that these old people will die.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am sure that we all sympathise with what the noble Lord says. I am equally sure that in their spending local authorities take into account this very serious item.

Lord McNair

My Lords, will the noble Earl agree that warm clothes and food are just as important in keeping warm as is fuel? Therefore, will he agree that a cost of warmth index should reflect the price of those items?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord has seen this very substantial pamphlet and will know that its authors have appreciated most of the problems.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, although I welcome what the noble Earl has said about the cost of warmth index and the Government's attitude towards it, can I have his assurance now that there will not be a repeat performance next year of what happened this year, when the fuel industries were forced to increase prices against their will?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is making a rather strong political point, which I do not think affects this at all. As a morning after the night before, I discard it.