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9.45 am

Does the Minister still believe that the Bill has no public expenditure implications? That was a mystery that arose at a very early stage, and then the plot thickened further, because in Committee, the Government, with the apparent connivance of Committee members--there were no Divisions--removed almost all the elements of the Bill that we had previously been told were vital, including the reference to fuel poverty.

That would have been mysterious enough, but a group calling itself Friends of the Earth conducted a very odd campaign, involving letters flying about all over the place. A leaflet appeared in my constituency in which that group claimed that the Bill, designed to save pensioners' lives, was being wrecked by me.

I shall quote from the leaflet--which, before you stop me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is relevant to the Bill--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. It is not so much the relevance to the Bill that I am concerned about as the relevance to the amendments and the new clause. Some outside group accusing the right hon. Gentleman of wrecking the Bill has nothing to do with those.

Mr. Forth: That is fine. I shall come back to it later, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall find a way of getting it in, because in it will get. That was just a trailer.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. At the moment, I am trying to find a way of keeping it out.

Mr. Forth: And you have succeeded for now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I shall give the matter further thought as we meander our way through. I know that you would not want to delay matters unnecessarily, so I hope that I can slip it in fairly quickly later.

There was an odd sequence of events: certain provisions were deemed essential on Second Reading; then the Minister said that they would not in fact change anything; and then they were systematically removed. In Committee, the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) said:

That illustrates the point that Committee members, and campaigning groups that I am not allowed to mention, did not lift a finger when the Government removed provisions

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that they had previously called essential. At that point, my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and I smelled several rats.

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border): My right hon. Friend is now on the key issue. The blame should not rest with members of the Committee. If members of Britain's foremost environmental campaigning organisation said that the gutting of the Bill was okay, I suspect that most Members of Parliament would initially believe that propaganda. Why does the new clause put back into the Bill those things that Friends of the Earth said could be taken out in Committee, although it thought that they were very important to begin with?

Mr. Forth: That poses a number of questions about these Friends of the Earth people, who seem to have taken some very peculiar attitudes, not to mention their systematic campaign of disinformation, to which, with your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I may return later.

Under new clause 12, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) proposes to reintroduce something that was originally deemed to be very important, but was then thought insufficiently important for people to bother much about it. About a month ago, my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) wrote to the Minister for the Environment to tell him that we thought that the Bill would have relevance and meaning if the original drafting were restored; that it could then deliver what it was always claimed it would deliver; and that it would therefore receive our support. A few days ago, the Minister for the Environment replied that the Government were prepared to support the reintroduction of virtually everything that they had removed from the Bill in Committee. I am very pleased about that. My right hon. Friend and I put that proposition to the Minister for the Environment, and he replied positively. I am sure that the Minister will confirm that when he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

In essence, my right hon. Friend and I believed that, if the Bill was to have any meaning, it should contain the provisions that it contained right from the start; we therefore insisted that they should be put back. No one else was involved. Friends of the Earth did not care whether or not those provisions were included. Its disinformation and its leaflets show that it did not give a damn what was in the Bill. All that it wanted was a Bill called "Warm Homes and Energy Conservation"; it was indifferent about the content. My right hon. Friend and I, taking our parliamentary duties seriously, persuaded the Minister for the Environment to provide the undertaking that is key to today's proceedings.

I do not want to delay the House. I hope that the Bill will proceed, with all the amendments tabled by hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West. My right hon. Friend and I will support those amendments. I hope that the Minister will confirm shortly that he will honour the commitment given by the Minister for the Environment. If so, the Bill may be able to deliver what it was intended to deliver; it cannot do that in its current form. If it is amended; if the Minister gives an undertaking; and if the House agrees with him, the Bill will emerge in a form that may genuinely provide help to those who need it in warming their homes. That is our hope. I do not want to

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prolong our proceedings, so I shall give my modest support to new clause 12. Perhaps, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will be able to return to the matters that you discouraged me from mentioning.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): I welcome new clause 12 and congratulate the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) on tabling it. I also welcome the movement that has taken place and the fact that we can still improve the Bill. I hope and trust that my hon. Friend the Minister will accept, with some grace, that the process of bringing the Bill back to the House on Report has involved several meanders. It is worth acknowledging how difficult it is to get a private Member's Bill through the House. Any Member who wants to introduce a Bill is told that civil servants will scrutinise the proposals and that the preference will be to cause the least disruption to departmental plans. Hon. Members are told in no uncertain terms that, if they aspire to get a private Member's Bill through the House, they should be modest in their expectations. A private Member's Bill can be blocked and obstructed in a variety of ways, so considerable skill and deftness of thought are required to get a Bill through the House.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Southend, West on achieving such broad consensus. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will recognise the role of the work done in Committee. The clauses and definitions that we discussed during the Committee's first sitting left a lot to be desired. The contribution that hon. Members made during that sitting was that they gave the Minister and his advisers time to reflect on some of the obvious gaps in the original definitions. To be fair, the Minister proposed a much improved set of definitions and clauses, which the Committee was able to consider. It has been helpful to recognise just how much movement has taken place in people's thinking on those definitions.

I welcome the proposed reinsertion of the term "fuel poverty". Hon. Members may recall that that phrase was used in Bills that some of us drafted early in our parliamentary days--I shall not rehearse them now. We have always talked about fuel poverty; it seems to be the most helpful peg on which to hang a definition of what the Bill should attempt to do. I am grateful to those who have helped in proposing the reinsertion of that phrase.

Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull): Does the hon. Gentleman concede that the credit for reinstating the original gravamen of the Bill lies with my right hon. Friends the Members for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean)? They forced the issue.

Mr. Simpson: I am happy to acknowledge the role that the right hon. Gentlemen have played in proposing that the phrase should be reintroduced, especially as they played a principal role in removing them in the first place. I am all in favour of Pauline conversions. During the debate on the money resolution, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said:

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I am grateful that, in the course of reflecting on the Bill, we have been able to construct a new consensus in which a recognition of the concept of fuel poverty is shared by the whole House.

Mr. Forth: Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that I am so influential in the House that I had only to utter a few words in an intervention for the Government to act and remove that phase in Committee?

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