Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Maclean: I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) on getting his Bill to the Third Reading stage. It has not been easy for him, and I am one of those who have not made it easy for him. I hope that he agrees that he now has a better Bill, which exceeds his expectations. He has not had an easy time today because he has had to move amendments and accept other amendments. He has done so graciously, given the circumstances.

I also congratulate the Minister on being gracious at the Dispatch Box. This might not have been the best day for him, as he has had to perform a few somersaults. I am not gloating about it--at least not until I issue the press release. The Minister and the Minister for the Environment graciously accepted the suggestions that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and I made to improve the Bill. The Minister has had to put back in the Bill things that he took out in Committee, and he has done that remarkably well.

21 Jul 2000 : Column 701

Exactly a month ago, on 21 June, my right hon. Friend and I, having looked at the Bill again, concluded that because of the changes made in Committee the Bill was a sham. We decided to write to the Minister for the Environment and offer him a deal. I shall not quote from the letter that we sent to him, but a statement that we issued on that day said:

my right hon. Friend and I--

and, with it, the following Bill. The press statement went on:

We said that the items that we would like to see restored in the Bill were

A key amendment--we thought that the timing might be a bit tricky but I am grateful that the Minister accepted it--was to put back in the Bill the 15-year target date. That is the offer that we made to the Government and I am pleased that they accepted it. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West was also keen that that should happen.

That process shows this House of Commons at its best. Simply because of how private Members' legislation had gone during the year, my right hon. Friend and I knew that we had a strong negotiating position with the Government--well, we hoped that we had. We have therefore managed to put back into the Bill those items that had been deleted, and one that had not been included, by making the Government an offer that they could not refuse: either accept the proposals, which would put teeth back into the Bill, or lose the Bill. Make no mistake, I would have been happily on my feet blocking the Bill if it had not had restored to it the 15-year target date and the other essential provisions that we have sensibly restored today, because I would have considered it to be a sham Bill.

Mr. Forth: Having said that, is my right hon. Friend puzzled that Friends of the Earth was apparently prepared to accept the Bill without it containing anything of substance? How does he explain that?

Mr. Maclean: I was going to conclude my remarks by dealing with that subject.

After my right hon. Friend and I wrote to the Minister for the Environment and issued a statement saying that we wanted to do a deal with the Government to restore the provisions, a remarkable thing happened. In my surgery, way up in Carlisle, 300 miles from London, a representative of Friends of the Earth arrived to see me. During our discussion, she revealed that, if I would do a deal with Friends of the Earth and enable it to hitch a ride on the back of our amendments, it would run a campaign

21 Jul 2000 : Column 702

urging people not to let the Government off the hook and switch its attack entirely to the constituency of the Minister for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher). She said, "We will switch our people into Meacher's constituency and try to make sure that he backs down."

Perhaps I should have taken up the offer, but I was so taken aback that I declined. My main reason for doing so was that if the organisation was so ready to stitch up a reasonable man like the Minister for the Environment, I stood little chance of being able to trust it. I share that account with the House because it is one of the reasons why I have been mentioning Friends of the Earth so much today, and other hon. Members might not have been aware of that organisation's role.

The Minister present today and his right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment are decent people and good parliamentarians. More than anything else, that episode convinced me that, if we were to change the Bill, it had to be done in the House, with the agreement of Ministers, Government Back Benchers and Opposition Back Benchers. This is our Parliament: if we let Bills be changed by outside organisations, no matter how well-meaning they are, we give up our parliamentary rights. Today, in the agreement between parliamentarians from the Labour party, the Conservative party, the Scottish National party, the Ulster Unionist party, and even the Liberal Democrat party, we have seen Parliament doing its job. We, the parliamentarians, with the Ministers' agreement, have decided what goes into the Bill.

All the measures that we have put into the Bill today have been welcomed by Members on both sides of the House, yet, in respect of every single one of those measures, I have a letter telling me not to do it. Friends of the Earth told me that if we moved any of our amendments restoring the provisions that Parliament has welcomed today, it would be a wrecking move--it was not necessary and it should not be done. That is the other reason why I have mentioned that organisation so extensively today: it has not helped us at all in our efforts to restore to the Bill those measures that we thought essential. I do not know what Friends of the Earth's agenda is: I suspect it wanted the headline, "We have a warm homes Bill", but did not care about the content.

I congratulate Government Members, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, my Front-Bench colleagues and the Minister, because Parliament has cared about the Bill's contents. When I spoke to the first group of amendments, I took the number of Government Back Benchers who were nodding to be a good sign. Colleagues on both sides do not want a sham Bill: we want it to contain figures and targets so that we can judge what the Government have achieved and whether or not they have succeeded. Our changes are not merely semantic improvements; they put into the Bill provisions that everyone outside thought were already in it--provisions that had appeared in the Bills promoted by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) and the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and had once been in the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West.

21 Jul 2000 : Column 703

I conclude that today has been a good day for parliamentary democracy and it has shown the House at its best. Once again, I congratulate the Under-Secretary for his manner at the Dispatch Box, which has been extremely gracious considering the way in which we have made him go through a few wee hoops. I am grateful.

12.54 pm

Mr. Austin: I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) and pay tribute to the way in which he has guided the Bill through Parliament.

It is not an easy task to get a private Member's Bill through. In the previous Parliament, when there was a Conservative Government, I managed to get a private Member's Bill through, with the support of that Government. The hon. Member for Southend, West acknowledged the support that he has had from the Government in getting this Bill through. I should add that my task was somewhat easier, as the right hon. Members for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) were members of the Conservative Government, so I did not face the same difficulties as some of my hon. Friends have had in trying to get their Bills through in this Session.

I also pay tribute to those who pioneered similar Bills previously, such as my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) and for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon). I should mention the former hon. Member for Ceredigion, Cynog Dafis, for the work that he did in this regard.

I am sorry that other Bills dealing with energy conservation, such as those of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford), which appear later on the Order Paper and which will not be reached, have not had such an easy passage as this Bill. I hope that those Bills will return to us in the next Session.

I shall deal with the comments that have been made about Friends of the Earth, as I regard some of those remarks as scurrilous. If it had not been for organisations such as Friends of the Earth campaigning out there in the community, outside Parliament, we may not have been where we are today.

On the subject of misleading information, I believe that to suggest that there has been only one death in Bromley because of cold is misleading. It ignores the fact that cold is a contributory factor to deaths from respiratory illnesses--asthma, influenza, pneumonia, bronchitis--and heart attacks, strokes and many more.

As the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) pointed out, there are 30,000 more deaths in this country in the winter than in the summer. That is a frightening statistic, which should be compared with other statistics that have been quoted from colder climates than ours, including Scandinavia. I draw attention to the statistics cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on Second Reading, which show how the excess of winter deaths increases with age.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mrs. McKenna) spelled out the package of measures that the Government have introduced to tackle fuel poverty--the reduction in VAT, the expansion of the home energy efficiency scheme, the fuel allowances, and housing investment. All those are good measures.

21 Jul 2000 : Column 704

I particularly welcome the HEES programme. I visited the 5,000th home in my constituency to be insulated last year. It happened to be on the hottest day of the year, but Mr. and Mrs. Baker have been back to the House to visit since the winter, and I know the benefits that they have derived from sound insulation measures. The expansion of that programme will bring about cost savings and warm homes, and will create jobs as well.

We had a discussion on Second Reading about whether the wind chill factor was important. The draught chill factor certainly is important. Anyone who has ever lived in a draughty home will know that no matter how high one turns up the heating, one still does not get warm.

The debate has concentrated on the elderly, but I believe that this is a children's Bill, too. If my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Audrey Wise) were present, she would agree, as she has campaigned on the issue. I hope that all hon. Members will join me in saying that we hope to see my hon. Friend back after the recess, restored to good health.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) mentioned disconnections and self- disconnections through fuel poverty, which affect many families with young children. As a grandfather of three children under five--two in the south-east and one in the frozen north--I am aware of the importance of the Bill to children.

The hon. Member for Southend, West is right--there does not need to be a regional definition built into the Bill, because fuel poverty is a combination of fuel costs and income. The Bill will go a long way towards reducing waste, helping energy conservation, and contributing to a reduction in the unnecessary generation of greenhouse gases. I hope that the inter-ministerial group will consider seriously the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) with regard to solar energy and renewable energy.

Hon. Members have mentioned expenditure; the Bill is a spend and save measure. It may mean expenditure, but it will contribute to great savings in energy consumption and pollution. Most of all, it will contribute enormously to the quality of life and to reductions in unnecessary burdens on the national health service.

Next Section

IndexHome Page