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1 pm

Sir Sydney Chapman: When I had the privilege of speaking on Second Reading on 10 March, I said that we seemed to be indulging in an all-party love-in because there was so much support for the Bill from all parties. Like the new footbridge across the Thames, that love has seemed to wobble a little in the past four months. However, I am glad that we are now back on track.

I join other hon. Members in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) for piloting the Bill--I hope successfully--through the House and on to the statute book. I also pay tribute to the hon. Members for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) and for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), who promoted similar Bills in previous Sessions or Parliaments. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Nottingham, South referred to Sir John Hannam, our former colleague, and his great interest in the subject.

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I have been immensely impressed by and supportive of the Bill since I read several articles by Mr. Andrew Warren, the director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy. I first took an interest in the matter when, many moons ago, I was a practising chartered architect.

We can treat statistics however we want, but a cursory examination of mortality figures shows that in our country, there are 30 per cent. more deaths in the winter months than in other months. Those excess deaths must be partly caused by cold. It is interesting to observe that in Scandinavian countries, which have a colder climate, there are far fewer excess deaths. It is therefore apparent to many hon. Members from all parties that the problem must be tackled.

We now realise that Parliament can and should tackle the problem. I am proud to support the Bill; I hope that it will reach the statute book. I am proud that we will have been able to do so much to tackle the inequalities of health. Although the Bill will be costly--so costly that it is good that precise figures have not put on it--I believe that the money will be well invested for the people of our country.

1.3 pm

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) on promoting the Bill, and on his work to create warmer homes in this country. He was a high profile supporter of the previous Government's policy on privatising our energy suppliers, and thanks to his support and that of other hon. Friends, there has subsequently been a 29 per cent. drop in electricity and gas prices.

Promoting a private Member's Bill is difficult; it requires tact and diplomacy, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his achievement. He has high hopes for the Bill, which has been greatly improved by the efforts of my right hon. Friends the Members for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean). I wish the Bill well, and I hope that it achieves its high aims.

1.4 pm

Mr. Forth: I endorse the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), but I shall not repeat them. It is important that people know how the Bill came about, and I thoroughly endorse my right hon. Friend's remarks about the importance of the parliamentary process and his injunction that we should not pay too much attention to single-interest, well financed groups outside the House.

When the Minister winds up, will he tell us whether he stands by his words during the money resolution debate? He said:

The Minister said that on 4 April, and of course I believed him. This morning the Bill was amended on Report and now, on Third Reading, we are considering a measure remarkably similar to the one that we discussed on 4 April.

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I would be interested--and I am sure that other right hon. and hon. Members and people outside the House would be interested--in whether the Minister stands by what he said on 4 April about the Bill in its then form, or whether he would like to alter anything that he said on that day. That would be extremely useful, as it would put his remarks in context. I hope that the Minister will respond to that question when he replies to the debate.

Let me repeat what my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border said. I too am grateful to the Minister, and the Minister for the Environment, for taking such a positive attitude and for responding to proper parliamentary process--or indeed, pressure--in the context of this private Member's Bill. I should like the Minister to say that he has not been remotely impressed by outside pressure but took due account of parliamentary pressure--but that might be asking a little too much, and I am not over-optimistic. However, I leave him with that thought. Having said that, I am happy to support the Bill on Third Reading and to acknowledge the proper parliamentary process that has brought it here.

1.6 pm

Mr. Beggs: I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) on the way in which he has handled the Bill. From the outset he sought widespread support for it in the House, and he achieved that. As has already been said, the way in which he has managed the proceedings throughout has been extremely diplomatic, and I express my appreciation to all right hon. and hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee, participated in the debates in the House and helped to strengthen the Bill so that we now have something of which we can all be proud.

But for devolution, I know that the hon. Gentleman would have included Scotland and Northern Ireland, making the measure apply throughout the United Kingdom. No doubt our colleagues in Northern Ireland and Scotland will learn from the Bill and apply the excellent measures that it provides for. I wish it well.

1.7 pm

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): This is the fourth Friday on which I have come down from Scotland to lend my support to the Bill. In recognition that it covers a devolved matter, will my hon. Friend the Minister ask his officials to get involved in dialogue with the Scottish officials who, I hope, will be dealing with a similar measure, and give them the information that led him to agree to the amendments that have been made today, so that Scotland will get a scheme at least as good as this one, if not better?

1.8 pm

Mr. Green: I add my congratulations to the many that have rightly been given to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), not only for his skill and fortitude in piloting the Bill through its various stages, but for his generosity in spreading the thanks around liberally, showing a great graciousness of purpose. Congratulations are also due to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who have taken a close interest in the progress of the Bill. At times some of them have been regarded as its enemies, but one thing that we have learned during its progress this morning is

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that the proper use of parliamentary proceedings can and should improve and strengthen legislation as it goes through the parliamentary process.

The principles behind the Bill command widespread support throughout the House, but I take some quiet pride in the fact that it has been piloted to the next stage by someone on the Conservative Benches, and that the most significant change that has been achieved between Second and Third Reading--nailing down the Government to a 15-year target--also came from pressure from this side. This is not a partisan point, and those of all parties who have taken the closest interest in the Bill will be pleased that the target has been restored. It will prevent this or any future Government from weaselling out of their obligations under the Bill.

That is the best guarantee that we have that the Bill will make a difference. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West made the point that everyone enters the House hoping to make a difference. He has made a difference with the Bill, but it is important to ensure that it makes a difference for millions of people in practice.

The Bill is a significant, positive step. Within the envelope of the attack on fuel poverty, we have heard a lot about the social angle--the obvious improvement to the quality of life of people whose income has forced them to limit the amount that they spend on fuel. That includes not only the elderly but quite often the young, as has been said.

Alongside the direct social benefit of making people's homes warmer, there is an environmental benefit for future generations. The better we insulate our homes, the less we contribute to climate change.

Will the Minister give us some idea about the financing? Various ideas have been suggested, not least by the all-party group, on how to involve private finance in funding the work that will be needed to implement the Bill.

This is a victory for Parliament and its procedures. Our scrutiny revealed some imperfections that have been significantly addressed. One subtlety that has not yet been mentioned is the fact that the time pressure on private Members' Bills allowed my right hon. Friends to put legitimate pressure on Ministers and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) so eloquently said, to make them an offer they could not refuse.

Without that time pressure, there would have been less incentive for the Government to accede to my right hon. Friends' suggestions. To those who are so keen on modernising the procedures of the House, I gently make the point that changes that would let the Government off the hook of having to get legislation through in a certain amount of time could result in less rigorous scrutiny and less effective legislation. I hope that, in the pleasure that is suffusing the whole House because of the practical effects of the Bill, we can also reflect on the lessons that we should learn from its successful improvement between Second and Third Reading.

I hope that the Government will learn another gentle lesson. Clearly, Labour Back Benchers welcome the Bill as much as Opposition Members do, so we can pass legislation that is relevant to the needs of millions of people. Perhaps the Government should concentrate a little less on their more peripheral legislation.

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This is an important, well supported Bill, and it is better than it was two months ago or on Second Reading. I supported it on Second Reading, and I am happy to do so again. I fully expect that the Government will do the same and that the Bill will make successful progress.

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