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Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South): Has my hon. Friend calculated how much spending that £20 million would save the national health service on beds and medical payments and how much would be saved on costs such as funeral services and everything else?

Mrs. Wise: Yes. That is exactly the point made by the Royal College of Nursing, which I quoted earlier.

I have to admit that there would be one extra cost. Age Concern estimates that about 50,000 more people over 60 died last winter than in the summer and that many of those deaths were preventable. The largest extra cost would be the cost of paying pensions to the people who lived longer. Do we not want to pay that? Do we not want people to live longer? They would be healthier as well.

The Minister has complained to me that the Bill is too vague. We left it vague to give the Government scope for action. If I had said that the Siple-Passel formula should be used, the Government would have said, "Oh no, we intend to use the Steadman formula. If you had put that, we would have agreed to the Bill." We left it vague in order to leave the initiative in the hands of Ministers, but we are then criticised for doing so.

We have been told that it would have been better to amend the cold weather payments in a different way. I went to see the Minister on Wednesday; if he had said that the Government intended to introduce their own Bill or their own regulations, I would have said okay and given way to someone else in the queue--but it was not said.

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We have also been told that one fault or problem in my little Bill--I am sure that every hon. Member has a copy--arises under clause 1(2), which relates to forecasts. We agree that it is much harder to forecast the wind chill effect than it is to forecast air temperatures, but that does not matter. So what if the Met Office did not forecast such a chill, so there would be no forecast to trigger the payments? There is no reason why an actual effect, which is recorded, should not trigger such payments. The Minister seems to have a lot of quibbles about supposedly technical points.

I was grateful for the help of Dr. Brian Giles, editor of the International Journal of Climatology, who confirmed that my layman's approach to the topic was correct. He assured me that my commonsense approach was perfectly good scientifically and that any other difficulty related to bureaucratic problems and not to scientific or climatic ones.

I have been placed in some difficulty today. I wanted to be brief, and I know that some hon. Members are worried that I may be accused of filibustering on my own Bill. However, I have already been made well aware that my Bill will not secure a Second Reading, so it would be a bit rich for the Government to try to accuse me of talking it out. I only hope that my brief contribution being interwoven with so many interventions has not led me to omit some crucial point from the speech on which I had previously slaved and which has been torn to shreds.

I thought that it was important to allow the mood of all of my hon. Friends on the Opposition Benches, and of a few hon. Members on the Conservative Benches, to be brought to the fore and noted. The debate is being watched by the public and judgments are being made by them not only about the Government but about the House.

If the Bill is badly drafted, vaguely worded or whatever the Government are saying, it should go into Committee for further public examination in a democratic manner.

I have made an unusually long contribution because I feel that I have had to substitute for the whole debate. I am very grateful to all those hon. Members who have taken part in this rather odd debate. They came prepared, and we would have had 100 Members to vote if you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, had accepted the closure motion. Those of my hon. Friends who are present are not just the London contingent, although I am grateful for their presence, but a representative gathering.

I now await with interest what the Minister has to say. If he finds that he is a little bit short of time, we will re-issue the Conservative party statement together with our answers to it in order to help him out.

2.23 pm

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark): This debate has been allocated 55 minutes, of which the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) has spoken for 47--

Mr. Campbell-Savours: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm that more speakers have spoken in the debate on my hon. Friend's Bill than on the preceding Bill, which went through the House of Commons almost on the nod? Will you also confirm that representatives of five different political

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parties have stood during the debate to confirm their support for the Bill? Will you further confirm that if every hon. Member takes his or her seat now, we can have a Division and give the Bill a Second Reading or carry it through on the nod? I am asking you for confirmation of the procedural points that I have made.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: First, there were certainly more speeches in the debate on the previous Bill, which has completed all its stages. Secondly, I keep no track of the number of interventions, but I know that a number of them were excessively long. Thirdly, as for the hon. Gentleman's point about procedural matters, I shall have to wait and see how the House progresses.

Mr. McLeish: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should be grateful for your comments on the fact that a large number of my hon. Friends have taken time to come to the House today, often giving up constituency matters and travelling long distances. They have sought to help my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) by not standing to be called to speak, anticipating that the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans), would want to address the House, to try to explain why the Government have conspired to kill the Bill and why they have dragged their feet over it, regardless of its merits. Now, insult is being heaped on injury by the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander), who is talking out the Bill when so many hon. Members want to support it and see it get on to the statute book. Will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, make a judgment on that?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The Chair cannot make a judgment on anything of that nature.

Mr. Alexander rose--

Mr. Connarty rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but Mr. Deputy Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

Mr. Alexander: The allegation, which I totally refute--

Mr. McLeish: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I hope that it is a new point of order.

Mr. McLeish: It is, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will we receive an indication of whether the Minister is to speak?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I have only just called the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) and we await his speech.

Mr. Alexander: If the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) had waited, he would have heard that I support the Bill and have come to make a speech in support of it. If the hon. Member for Preston had not spent so much time complaining that the previous Bill had been filibustered, she would have heard speeches from many other hon. Members. I totally refute the argument that I

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have come to filibuster to ensure that the Bill does not make progress, and I shall now sit down, to allow my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to make his response.

2.27 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Roger Evans): I congratulate the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) on raising this important issue, but the Bill, as drawn up, is substantially wrong: the difficulties are technical and practical.

I stress--as the hon. Lady fairly said--that the measure is unnecessary because we have all the statutory powers we need, under section 138 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992, to make regulations taking into account wind chill if we are persuaded that that is practical and appropriate. The second reason why the provision is unnecessary--the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) got it completely wrong--is that this summer, when we reviewed, as we do every year, the cold weather payments system, we asked the Meteorological Office to advise us on wind chill. We placed in the Library the Meteorological Office's report, which identified the difficulties of taking it into account straight away and made recommendations for further work.

As I explained to the Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, we are examining in a number of ways whether it is practical and appropriate to take wind chill into account in those regulations. I stress--this is where today's debate has gone wrong--that there is no accepted practical way of doing so, given the present state of knowledge.

Let us be quite clear: were the Bill to become law tomorrow, the only result would be chaos, because it is unworkable. It would be chaos because--as the hon. Lady properly explained--on the forecasting element, the Bill directs the adjudicating officers, who are independent, to take account of a forecast, which cannot properly be done. How that can be said--

Mr. Winnick rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but Mr. Deputy Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

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