I think the Government owe something better than this Order to the people who put them in power. Therefore, I say that the Government ought to think again on this matter. In regard to the overall consumption of fuel, this Order probably would result in greater rather than smaller consumption. Whereas all that happens, or is likely to happen, under present conditions, is that on a cold or chilly morning or evening in the summer an electric or gas fire might be put on for half an hour and the discomfort removed, it may mean that there will be the consumption of coal on fires for two, three or four hours. A fire might be lit in the morning and kept burning throughout the day. Ultimately there is not likely to be any real saving of fuel. Nobody in these days—or, if so, only a minority that we can afford to ignore—puts on an electric or gas fire for heating purposes during the summer months unless it is absolutely necessary.
I wish particularly to stress the appeal made on behalf of elderly people. Old people living alone seem to be in a special position of hardship under this Order. One ought to remember that of all sections of the community probably they are the most hard hit by food rationing. In the case of old people living alone the rations do not go very far. If, at the same time, they are to be exposed to the rigours of our climate without the means of protection afforded by a gas or electric stove used for a short time, they will suffer unfair hardship. My view is that the Government have gone to the absolute limit already in the burden which they have put upon the domestic consumer. They ought not to go any further. The honest and conscientious will try to observe this Order, probably at a sacrifice of health and vitality which they ought not to be asked to make. Those who have no scruples will flout the Order and they will get away with it. It is impossible to prevent it.
The hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) showed that in practice the Order is really unworkable because it is based on two wrong assumptions. One assumption is that all houses in this country are dry and that people are living in decent conditions. That is not true. We were told that in Birmingham there were a large number of back-to-back houses. I know of many people in my constituency who live in damp basements where before they go to bed it is necessary for them to put on an electric or gas fire if they are not to suffer serious consequences. This Order is too rigid. It makes no allowance for that kind of thing. It does not make any allowance for the climatic conditions of the country, and we know how very erratic they can be.
I ask the Government to reconsider this Order. I am sure that a voluntary appeal on the lines that I have suggested—if need be keeping this Order in reserve in the background—would have the desired effect. A rigid and inflexible Order of this kind is bound to inflict unnecessary and unreasonable hardships and is not likely to achieve the object which the Government have in mind. We are all as anxious as hon. Members opposite to try to help the country through the fuel crisis. Where we differ is on the methods to be employed. The very small saving which this Order can achieve does not justify the hardships it will inevitably cause.