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‘Warm homes bill’ blocked by the Government

April 2, 2009 2:19 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Despite broad support, David Heath's Fuel Poverty Bill is talked out by the Government and fails to pass its second reading

Liberal Democrat MP David Heath's Fuel Poverty Bill has been blocked by the Government, despite getting the support of MPs from all three main parties.

Introducing the Bill, David told the House of the wide support that the bill had received from organisations, councillors, individuals and Members of the house. He outlined these reasons for the widespread support:

"The Bill is good for those living in poverty, a group that encompasses the old, young families and people with disabilities. It is good for the public health of the United Kingdom; it is very good for the environment; and, at a time when it is desperately needed, it is good for the economy."

He explained that the Bill would require the Government to introduce a strategy to eliminate fuel poverty by 2016. "It does that by means of a basket of measures, including insulation and sustainable energy. Essentially it would require hard-to-heat and energy wasteful houses to be treated in a sustainable way." Among the measures, said David, would be statutory social tariffs for the utilities, "so that perhaps fewer people are cold and unhappy over the coming winters." He described how the Bill set out "clear objectives", with a "recognisable and reasonable" time scale, appropriate to the urgency of the situation.

David outlined the severity of the current situation:

"I cannot believe... that in this so-called civilised country... we can allow 3.5 million households at a conservative estimate - the figure is probably 5 million - to be in fuel poverty. It is a disgrace... It cannot be right that one in three older people live in one room over winter to keep warm. It cannot be right that one quarter of all older people stay in bed to keep warm. It cannot be right that one in 10 older people in this country cut back on essentials such as food and clothes to pay fuel bills because they cannot do both."

He set out some of the secondary advantages of the bill, including a reduction in carbon emissions of 59% and the creation of a significant number of green jobs. While recognising that the Government was already taking some action on fuel poverty, he said that "the present approach is insufficient and that more energy and resources need to be directed at the issue... There is a deadline and it is not good enough simply to produce policy papers: we need action." David recognised that the Government felt some of the measures proposed in his bill were ambitious and expensive, but he said he was willing to make concessions to achieve consensus and reduce the total cost.

The Bill received support from MPs from all three main parties. A number of Liberal Democrat MPs expressed their support for the bill, and highlighted the serious and pressing nature of the current situation across the country in both rural and urban areas.

Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, succinctly summed up:

"The Bill's objectives will allow us to save carbon, save money, save jobs and, most importantly as my hon. Friend said, save lives."

Unfortunately, the Bill failed to pass its second reading. The Government opposed it, and were able to 'talk it out' using their allotted speaking slot at the end of the debate. David Heath attempted to stop the Minister from doing this by using a 'closure motion' to bring debate to a conclusion. However the closure motion required 100 MPs to support it and only 91 MPs were present to support the Bill. 45 Lib Dems (nearly three quarters of Lib Dem MPs), were present but only one in ten Tory MPs and one in fourteen Labour MPs attended the debate.

The Bill is scheduled to receive further consideration on June 12th. However, other bills will get precedence on that day, so it now looks unlikely to pass unless the Government withdraw their opposition to it.

Further information is available at: http://campaigns.libdems.org.uk/warmhomes