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Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): The Government's sheer hypocrisy has been exposed today. For every minute that the Minister and his hon. Friends filibustered on a Bill that was not opposed--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): Order. The hon. Lady might like to withdraw that remark.

Mrs. Mahon: I shall alter the word "filibuster". During the long, unnecessary debate on an unopposed Bill,

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elderly people were being admitted to hospital with cold-related illnesses or were dying because they could not afford to pay their heating bills.

Mrs. Wise: There is much justifiable anger and sorrow on Opposition Benches which is shared by a few--unfortunately, not enough--Conservative Members. Several Conservative Members have expressed support for the legislation, but they are not present for the debate. They are not well served by their Government.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South-East): Does my hon. Friend agree that what occurred this morning was utterly appalling? Equally, does she agree that many thousands of pensioners have written to Members of Parliament up and down the country expressing their desire for the Bill to proceed and be implemented?

Mrs. Wise: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why so many hon. Members have come to the House on a Friday. They have travelled from their constituencies in Scotland, Yorkshire, the north-east and other places to participate in the debate on this Bill.

Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale): Although the drugs issue is very important, does the hon. Lady agree that as 265 elderly people died of hypothermia in England and Wales in 1995, the Bill must have time to pass through all its stages? Is it not an absolute disgrace that Conservative Members debated an unopposed Bill for so long?

Mrs. Wise: The hon. Lady is right. I wish it were not necessary for hon. Members to demonstrate their anger at what has occurred as we must discuss the substance of the Bill.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Parliament rose for the Christmas recess and, despite the very cold weather, the cold weather payments were not triggered for some time. Is my hon. Friend aware that my hon. Friends and I went to Downing street to protest about that and found the hall of No. 10 very warm indeed? What a contrast with the conditions of many of our constituents--the elderly, pensioners and the poor--who cannot afford to heat their homes. I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the Bill.

Mrs. Wise: My hon. Friend is quite correct. I noted that one hon. Member who spoke this morning--rather unnecessarily, in our opinion--is on record as favouring the abolition of the cold weather payments scheme altogether.

Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster): Can the hon. Lady understand the frustration of elected parliamentary representatives from Northern Ireland who saw more than three hours of parliamentary time devoted to an uncontroversial Bill which enjoyed the agreement of the House and which could have passed through all its stages in 30 minutes? Yet on 7 November 1996, Ministers brought two orders before the House--one contained nine schedules and 57 pages, the other had 13 schedules and 113 pages, and the Minister received 700 responses--but the House and the elected representatives of Northern

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Ireland were given just an hour and a half to debate not just one but both orders. How can three hours be justified for a non-controversial Bill?

Mrs. Wise: The hon. Gentleman is right. It cannot be justified. There is no justification. The anger in the House is palpable. I do not remember a situation where this has been the mood. It is anger because people die as they are too cold. It is no accident that among the many bodies that expressed support for the Bill are the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing. The Royal College of Nursing said that the Bill could, in fact, make savings because it would result in reduced hospitalisation.

The BMA said that people are having to suffer dangerously low body temperatures because they cannot afford to keep warm, which leads to preventable illness and, in some cases, death. It said:

That is why we co-operated on the Public Entertainments Licences (Drug Misuse) Bill--a Bill which we were told would save lives. My Bill is intended to save lives. Where has the co-operation been?

Sir Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown): As the hon. Lady knows, I am a supporter of her Bill, and I am very pleased to be so. I very much regret that it will not reach the statute book in the life of this Parliament. However, it is now the future that matters. Will she consider the possibility of co-operating with me in writing a joint letter, which we would both sign, to the Prime Minister and to the leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, to try to obtain a pledge from both of them that whichever of them becomes Prime Minister after the next general election will take steps to implement the Bill?

Mrs. Wise: I find that idea rather attractive. It would be beneficial if the hon. Gentleman and I had words around that suggestion after the debate.

Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South): Does my hon. Friend agree that the prime culprit in the previous debate, which was extremely lengthy, was the Minister, whose response took a very long time? Does not that make it absolutely clear that it is Government policy to stop her Bill? Is not it also clear that, as well as the crisis in the health service, the winter crisis in the health service is directly affected because elderly people are suffering from the cold wind and the effect of it on their bills, which causes them not to use the heating that they have? Is not it clear that the Government have put their face against this Bill?

Mrs. Wise: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In fact, I was informed by a Government Whip yesterday evening that my Bill would not be given a Second Reading. I hope that because I am on my feet, and will be for rather longer than I intended because I have to give hon. Members who have come from the far corners of the country an opportunity--

Mr. Henry McLeish (Fife, Central): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of my hon. Friend's comments about a Government Whip who approached her to tell her that the Government had made a decision on

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whether there would be a Second Reading the day before a private Member's Bill is heard, does that not require a comment from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in relation to the abuse of the private Member's system by this outrageous Government?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The only comment that the Chair makes is that it has absolutely no responsibility for conversations between any hon. Members.

Mr. McLeish: On a further point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Of course, I respect your comments, but would I be in order to suggest that if my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) were to write to Madam Speaker outlining the details of the contribution made by the Government Whip, that might be a different matter which Madam Speaker could consider?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Any hon. Member can write to Madam Speaker at any time.

Mrs. Wise: We all know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there are more ways of killing a cat than strangling it. I have no doubt that no formal Whip has been issued for Conservative Members in this instance. The intention, however, was made quite explicit to me.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): The hon. Gentleman is a millionaire.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): Has my hon. Friend--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. To whom is the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) giving way?

Mrs. Wise: To my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mrs. Clwyd rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. If the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) has nothing to contribute that is relevant to the Bill, I should be grateful if he would go elsewhere.

Mrs. Clwyd: My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) was talking about the activities of the Government Whip. I wonder whether she noticed his activities this morning. He was constantly weaving around the Government Back Benches, clearly encouraging some of his hon. Friends to make the same repetitive speech time after time. Has my hon. Friend noticed the strong contingent from Wales that is now present in the Chamber? Members who represent constituencies in Wales are in their places because cold weather and deaths from hypothermia bear especially on areas with high percentages of disabled people as well as elderly people. Wales has the largest stock of older houses. The Government have shown again that they are determined

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to clobber the elderly. They have clobbered them with value added tax on domestic fuel and by refusing to put money into home insulation. We are now seeing just one further example of how the Government do not care a fig about the elderly in our community.

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