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Mr. Simpson: I was praising my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues on the Treasury Benches. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst had only to show a gap in his learning in an intervention to mobilise hon. Members on both sides of the House to explain the reasons why fuel poverty is a legitimate concept and why it is so important. I praise the House for successfully contributing to the education of the right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border. I welcome the fact that that has taken place and that we can include the phrase "fuel poverty", because it clarifies the reality of the problems that beset our society, which are a scandal that needs to be addressed. I welcome new clause 12 and congratulate the hon. Member for Southend, West on all the work that he has done on reintroducing those words, and I celebrate the fact that we all recognise that fuel poverty is a legitimate problem that the Bill must address.

10 am

Mr. Maclean: I welcome the new clause and the fact that the Government will accept it. I am grateful that the Government have listened over the past few weeks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and me. We wrote to the Minister to indicate that there were five essential things that we wanted put back into the Bill and that, in those circumstances, we would be happy for it to proceed. I am glad that the Minister, in discussion with my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), has conceded the point on fuel poverty.

I have before me a Bill proposed in 1997 by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson): the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Bill, as it was on Second Reading, and the Bill that we are debating today. There are considerable similarities between the 1997 Bill and my hon. Friend's Bill on Second Reading. I am glad to see the hon. Gentleman nodding. I am not accusing my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West of plagiarism, but large parts of his Bill, as it was on Second Reading, are similar.

I have some concerns about the implementation and about costs but those are for the Government to explain to the taxpayer. I have greater concern about the deception that was wrought on Members of Parliament and the public not by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West, but by Friends of the Earth and others who pretended that my hon. Friend's Bill is the same as it was

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at Second Reading--or, more importantly, the same as the 1997 Bill proposed by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South.

Today, I have received my third letter from a Friends of the Earth supporter.

Mr. Forth: As many as that?

Mr. Maclean: I have had as many as three from my own constituency. However, the letters that I have received from the rest of the country on the Bill have been instructive, and that is why I was keen for the Minister to put the points back in the Bill. I had letters from home insulation contractors, saying that they would make a lot of money because the Bill contained specific clauses on cavity wall insulation and loft lagging. I looked at the Bill again and discovered that they were talking about the wrong Bill.

On fuel poverty, I have received letters from pensioner groups in other parts of the country, all saying that they would benefit because of the mention of fuel poverty in clause 3. When one studies the Bill as it is today, it becomes clear that they are talking about a totally different Bill.

Mr. Alan Simpson: I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has been neglected by his constituents and has received only three letters. There was a large gathering of pensioners in London this week.

Mr. Forth: How many?

Mr. Simpson: Probably about 50 people from different organisations. Importantly, people had come from the constituencies of the right hon. Members for Bromley and Chislehurst and for Penrith and The Border with a box of cards that they had tried to deliver to both of them. I have that box, which I will happily hand over to the right hon. Members.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I may have forgotten the hon. Gentleman's surname earlier, but I have not forgotten the rules on interventions. His is too long.

Mr. Maclean: If any of my constituents come to the House and let me know that they are coming, I will be available to meet them, if it all possible. None of them let me know they were coming. If the hon. Gentleman provides me with the names and addresses of those constituents, I will be delighted to have them. Now that I have managed to work my word processor, I have an interesting package of information on the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Bill to send to all constituents.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, South is making my point. Many pensioner groups and other organisations believe that the Bill is somehow identical to that proposed by him, and to an earlier Bill proposed by the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), which had even more targets and was more specific.

Mr. Forth: Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is worse than that? Some of the literature that I have received states that the Government will install home insulation and efficient heating systems, resulting in warm

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homes. This sort of claim was made by Friends of the Earth, despite the Minister telling us that there would be no extra programmes and no extra money.

Mr. Maclean: We know that the Minister is a man of many talents; it is quite possible that he has his toolbox behind the Chair and is ready to install home insulation efficiency equipment. He would never do it on a moonlighting basis, because he does not believe in second jobs. My right hon. Friend makes the point that there is a huge misinformation exercise; not by the Government or my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West. There is a vicious propaganda campaign led by Friends of the Earth for its own purposes.

The only purpose is that Friends of the Earth is keen to get a slogan. It wants to be able to say that it pushed through the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Bill. It is happy to have the Bill gutted and have nothing in it, so long as it has the title. It will carry on pretending that the Bill is the same as those proposed by the hon. Members for Nottingham, South and for Halifax. I appreciate that Labour Members will not want to say anything about worthy environmental campaigning organisations and risk exposing their shoulder blades to them. However, I hope that Labour Members will agree with some of what I have said regarding Friends of the Earth.

I wanted to see the words "fuel poverty" put back in the Bill because I wanted to see how the Government deal with it. I am not sure about the concept of fuel poverty. I think food poverty is infinitely more important. If one looks at the statistics, one sees that many people are suffering because they do not have enough food or because they are not eating properly. There is a problem with elderly women whose husbands die, who decide that it is not worth cooking a meal and survive on a cup of tea and a biscuit. That problem desperately needs tackling by all Governments, and it is perhaps more important than the concept of fuel poverty.

Mr. Forth: On that point, is my right hon. Friend aware that the Bromley health authority has kindly provided me with some figures about deaths in the borough attributable to cold? Tragically, five people have died from cold in the last eight years and, in my constituency, there has been one death since 1997. That official figure contrasts with the claims made by Friends of the Earth that, on average, 150 Bromley pensioners die every winter because they are cold in their homes. That is the disgraceful disinformation being peddled in my constituency by a dishonest organisation. There was one death, tragically, in actuality; 150 deaths were claimed in the rubbish that has been put round my constituency.

Mr. Maclean: I have some slight sympathy for my right hon. Friend, but the figures attributed to him for mass murder are nowhere near as good as those attributed to me. I have been accused of killing 600 people in Cumbria. Until my right hon. Friend reaches that total, I do not think that he has much cause for complaint. Admittedly, he has real cause for complaint about any organisation that issues rubbish like that, but I have been accused of surpassing him. Unfortunately--or fortunately, of course--the statistics for my own patch are radically different. It is difficult to determine those who have died

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of cold in their own homes in Cumbria because the figures sometimes get mixed in with the figures for those who have died of hypothermia on the mountains.

Mr. John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that although "hypothermia" may have appeared on only one death certificate, cold exacerbates conditions such as influenza, bronchitis, asthma, cardiac problems, strokes, and so on? Cold can be a major contributory factor to the deaths of elderly people from other illnesses.

Mr. Maclean: Of course cold can be a contributory factor, but so can hot weather conditions and other aspects of our climate. [Interruption.] Ozone levels and fumes cause problems, too, and cause extra deaths at certain times of the year. It is utterly bogus, however, to attribute all excess winter deaths purely to lack of home insulation or to demand a comprehensive package to prevent excess winter deaths. It is an utterly bogus statistic.


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