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Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): I am very interested in the argument that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to propound. Does he not accept that in the context of eating and heating, we are talking about internal as well as external heating? Has he looked at the excess winter deaths in other countries which have a much colder climate than the United Kingdom? Surely he must accept that although hypothermia does not appear on death certificates, there are sensible reasons for accepting the statistics for these excess winter deaths. The problem must be addressed, which is why I support the new clause.
Mr. Maclean: Of course I have looked at the figures for other countries. In my piles of paperwork, there is a booklet that includes them. I am not completely rubbishing the concept of excess winter deaths. Nevertheless, the statistics are grossly exaggerated by certain organisations for their own purposes.
The point of the debate is to support the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West. I hope that the Minister will accept it--I will be very surprised if he does not. The new clause meets my demand that the term "fuel poverty" be restored to various parts of the Bill. I want it restored not because I completely understand the concept, but because I want to see how the Government will deal with it. The Government were happy to go along with the concept and they must be judged on how successfully they deal with it over the next few years.
I also like the new clause because of its proposed power to make regulations that specify the definitions of fuel poverty and living on a lower income household. I was worried that after the Bill was gutted in Committee, it was rather vague on that aspect. The new clause would give it a bit more clarity and certainty.
What made me suspicious of the Bill initially was the money resolution and some of the things that the Minister said and did not say in the debate about it. I am not blaming him entirely--he had his brief, and he had to stick to it at the time. I was very suspicious that there might be a ploy under way and that the Bill would end up gutted, with the key elements taken out--the power to
I do not want us to pass legislation that is hollow and merely aspirational verbiage, as my right hon. Friend said. Let us put the relevant terms back in and make the Bill what we say it is and what the organisations outside think it is. Then let us judge the Government on how well they do.
Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we have an opportunity here, because the Secretary of State will be able to make regulations to enforce the toughest definition of fuel poverty?
Mr. Maclean: Exactly. That is one of the reasons why my right hon. Friend and I wrote to the Minister of State saying that we could do a deal. We said that the Bill was empty, hollow and rubbish, and that there was no point in passing it--it was nothing like the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South. We said that if we could, with the agreement of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West, put in things by which the Government can be measured--such as a definition of fuel poverty and the power to make regulations--when the Minister brought those regulations before the House, both sides would know whether we were dealing with 50 people or 500,000.
The regulations will have to delineate those whom the Government consider live in lower-income households or in fuel poverty. At that stage we will be able to see whether the Government are trying to dodge their obligations by narrowing the focus of the Bill to dealing with a few thousand or a few hundred thousand people a year. If the regulations follow the spirit of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South, we know that it will have to catch 500,000 people a year. However, we will judge the Minister on that later--today is not the day. Today is the day to say that the new clause is an improvement, and I welcome it. It covers some of the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend and me. We do not wish to push any of our amendments to the vote but will be happy to accept the new clause.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): I support the new clause. It is interesting that the right hon. Members for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Maclean) seem to have spent most of their speeches slagging off Friends of the Earth rather than addressing the issues in the Bill. I have found Friends of the Earth of great assistance, generally speaking, in preparing for the debates on the Bill, although I have one small criticism. I was surprised on 9 June to see that the Bill had disappeared, having spent some time preparing to debate it on that day. Having discussed the issue with members of Friends of the Earth on several occasions in the previous couple of weeks, I thought that it was, at the very least, somewhat discourteous of them not to let me know the change of tactics on that day.
I intend to address those amendments shortly, because I think that the right hon. Gentlemen are trying to run with the hare and the hounds--perhaps to presage a forthcoming battle that we may have on the Floor of the House--in that they did not withdraw those amendments at an earlier stage, but left them on the Order Paper for today and available for selection. So although the right hon. Gentlemen may not press those amendments, they nevertheless form part of the first group of amendments on the selection paper.
Mr. Maclean: The amendments are on the Order Paper because that was part of the agreement I made with the Minister of State. I said that even if the new clause and the amendment were forthcoming from my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West, I would still leave our amendments on the Order Paper in case of accidents. It has been known for new amendments not to get on to the Order Paper, by accident. Were that to happen, at least we would have something to debate. Now that my hon. Friend's new clause and amendment have appeared on the Order Paper, I will honour our commitment to the Minister that we will not force our amendments to a vote.
Mr. Dismore: I am grateful for that clarification. I can only assume that the amendments may have been put down on different days and that the right hon. Members for Penrith and The Border and for Bromley and Chislehurst had forgotten what they had tabled previously. They contain many internal inconsistencies as well as vague and woolly definitions of what fuel poverty or income may be.
Mr. Dismore: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Of course I would not question Madam Speaker's selection of amendments, which has highlighted the difficulties in the amendments. On the one hand, the right hon. Gentlemen put themselves forward as great champions of the poor and people who need warmer homes. On the other, their amendments are internally inconsistent, displaying a complete lack of thought about the issues. If anyone deserves criticism, it is those who see it as their business to scupper the Bill rather than working constructively with those of us who want progress.
In amendment No. 5, to clause 1, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst would define "households in fuel poverty" by reference to income, but offers no definition of whether that means gross or net income, includes savings income, or means only earned income. In amendment No. 33, for the whole Act, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border offers a different definition--household income at "half the current average". The average of what he does not say.
In amendment No. 31, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst makes a series of vague suggestions. He says that homes should be "acceptably warm". Acceptable to whom? He has had one person die of hypothermia in his constituency, so should it be acceptable to him? Or should it be acceptable to the pensioners who need and benefit from the winter fuel payment--soon to rise to £150--which is a vital contribution to dealing with fuel poverty and heating homes, and which the Conservatives intend to abolish should they win the next election?
One of the Government's first acts was to reduce value added tax on heating bills, which was of great importance to those who need to keep their homes acceptably warm. We cut VAT to 5 per cent.--the lowest amount permitted