Cold Weather Payments (Wind Chill Factor) Bill

Petition – in the House of Commons at 1:29 pm on 17 January 1997.

Alert me about debates like this

Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston 1:36, 17 January 1997

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Bill has caught the public imagination and huge numbers of our constituents have been waiting for us to make some progress on it. It is just unfortunate that that message has not reached many Conservative Members.

Ministers have clearly told me that Second Reading will not be approved. We find ourselves without adequate time to debate the Second Reading because a Bill on which there has been, if anything, excessive co-operation from the Opposition Benches has been allowed to go through all its stages. There was no opposition to that Bill, yet it is now 1.37 pm and I have only just risen to introduce a Bill that affects millions of pensioners. Not only are we denied the opportunity of a proper Second Reading debate but we are denied the opportunity of taking the Bill through its Committee stage. I have been clearly told that that is the position.

The Bill is modest and brief, but I should have thought that it would represent something good coming out of this House—many people would say "for once"—if it were at least given a Second Reading and debated in Committee. That has been thwarted. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, can see how many hon. Members are here to take part in the debate.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike , Burnley

As my hon. Friend said, the Bill is modest, but the weather that we have experienced in the past few weeks, particularly the wind chill factor, which is an important part of this Bill, provides evidence of why we need the proposed change.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

I intend to take rather more time than I had expected to take to ensure that everyone fully understands what is involved. Conservative central office and the Conservative party have been issuing misleading statements. The Government claim that my Bill is badly drafted. In that case, why not send it to Committee? That is what the Committee stage is for. The Government regularly introduce Bills whose amendments are ultimately longer than the original text—and they say that my modest, two-clause Bill is badly drafted. In letters to constituents, the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans), has expressed sympathy with the principles of the Bill. I have seen those letters, which have percolated through voluntary organisations or reached me directly.

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon , Halifax

The Government's sheer hypocrisy has been exposed today. For every minute that the Minister and his hon. Friends filibustered on a Bill that was not opposed—

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. The hon. Lady might like to withdraw that remark.

Mrs. Mahan:

I shall after the word "filibuster". During the long, unnecessary debate on an unopposed Bill, elderly people were being admitted to hospital with cold-related illnesses or were dying because they could not afford to pay their heating bills.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

There is much justifiable anger and sorrow on Opposition Benches which is shared by a few—unfortunately, not enough—Conservative Members. Several Conservative Members have expressed support for the legislation, but they are not present for the debate. They are not well served by their Government.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham , Coventry South East

Does my hon. Friend agree that what occurred this morning was utterly appalling? Equally, does she agree that many thousands of pensioners have written to Members of Parliament up and down the country expressing their desire for the Bill to proceed and be implemented?

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why so many hon. Members have come to the House on a Friday. They have travelled from their constituencies in Scotland, Yorkshire, the north-east and other places to participate in the debate on this Bill.

Photo of Ms Liz Lynne Ms Liz Lynne , Rochdale

Although the drugs issue is very important, does the hon. Lady agree that as 265 elderly people died of hypothermia in England and Wales in 1995, the Bill must have time to pass through all its stages? Is it not an absolute disgrace that Conservative Members debated an unopposed Bill for so long?

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

The hon. Lady is right. I wish it were not necessary for hon. Members to demonstrate their anger at what has occurred as we must discuss the substance of the Bill.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Parliament rose for the Christmas recess and, despite the very cold weather, the cold weather payments were not triggered for some time. Is my hon. Friend aware that my hon. Friends and I went to Downing street to protest about that and found the hall of No. 10 very warm indeed? What a contrast with the conditions of many of our constituents—the elderly, pensioners and the poor—who cannot afford to heat their homes. I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the Bill.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

My hon. Friend is quite correct. I noted that one hon. Member who spoke this morning—rather unnecessarily, in our opinion—is on record as favouring the abolition of the cold weather payments scheme altogether.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea , Mid Ulster

Can the hon. Lady understand the frustration of elected parliamentary representatives from Northern Ireland who saw more than three hours of parliamentary time devoted to an uncontroversial Bill which enjoyed the agreement of the House and which could have passed through all its stages in 30 minutes? Yet on 7 November 1996, Ministers brought two orders before the House—one contained nine schedules and 57 pages, the other had 13 schedules and 113 pages, and the Minister received 700 responses—but the House and the elected representatives of Northern Ireland were given just an hour and a half to debate not just one but both orders. How can three hours be justified for a non-controversial Bill?

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

The hon. Gentleman is right. It cannot be justified. There is no justification. The anger in the House is palpable. I do not remember a situation where this has been the mood. It is anger because people die as they are too cold. It is no accident that among the many bodies that expressed support for the Bill are the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing. The Royal College of Nursing said that the Bill could, in fact, make savings because it would result in reduced hospitalisation.

The BMA said that people are having to suffer dangerously low body temperatures because they cannot afford to keep warm, which leads to preventable illness and, in some cases, death. It said: We strongly support Mrs. Wise's attempt to keep our coldest and poorest people in better health. That is why we co-operated on the Public Entertainments Licences (Drug Misuse) Bill—a Bill which we were told would save lives. My Bill is intended to save lives. Where has the co-operation been?

Photo of Mr Andrew Bowden Mr Andrew Bowden , Brighton, Kemptown

As the hon. Lady knows, I am a supporter of her Bill, and I am very pleased to be so. I very much regret that it will not reach the statute book in the life of this Parliament. However, it is now the future that matters. Will she consider the possibility of co-operating with me in writing a joint letter, which we would both sign, to the Prime Minister and to the leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, to try to obtain a pledge from both of them that whichever of them becomes Prime Minister after the next general election will take steps to implement the Bill?

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

I find that idea rather attractive. It would be beneficial if the hon. Gentleman and I had words around that suggestion after the debate.

Photo of Mr John Gunnell Mr John Gunnell , Leeds South and Morley

Does my hon. Friend agree that the prime culprit in the previous debate, which was extremely lengthy, was the Minister, whose response took a very long time? Does not that make it absolutely clear that it is Government policy to stop her Bill? Is not it also clear that, as well as the crisis in the health service, the winter crisis in the health service is directly affected because elderly people are suffering from the cold wind and the effect of it on their bills, which causes them not to use the heating that they have? Is not it clear that the Government have put their face against this Bill?

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In fact, I was informed by a Government Whip yesterday evening that my Bill would not be given a Second Reading. I hope that because I am on my feet, and will be for rather longer than I intended because I have to give hon. Members who have come from the far corners of the country an opportunity—

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of my hon. Friend's comments about a Government Whip who approached her to tell her that the Government had made a decision on whether there would be a Second Reading the day before a private Member's Bill is heard, does that not require a comment from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in relation to the abuse of the private Member's system by this outrageous Government?

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

The only comment that the Chair makes is that it has absolutely no responsibility for conversations between any hon. Members.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

On a further point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Of course, I respect your comments, but would I be in order to suggest that if my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) were to write to Madam Speaker outlining the details of the contribution made by the Government Whip, that might be a different matter which Madam Speaker could consider?

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Any hon. Member can write to Madam Speaker at any time.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

We all know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there are more ways of killing a cat than strangling it. I have no doubt that no formal Whip has been issued for Conservative Members in this instance. The intention, however, was made quite explicit to me.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay , Thurrock

The hon. Gentleman is a millionaire.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd , Cynon Valley

Has my hon. Friend—

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. To whom is the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) giving way?

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

To my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. If the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) has nothing to contribute that is relevant to the Bill, I should be grateful if he would go elsewhere.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd , Cynon Valley

My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) was talking about the activities of the Government Whip. I wonder whether she noticed his activities this morning. He was constantly weaving around the Government Back Benches, clearly encouraging some of his hon. Friends to make the same repetitive speech time after time. Has my hon. Friend noticed the strong contingent from Wales that is now present in the Chamber? Members who represent constituencies in Wales are in their places because cold weather and deaths from hypothermia bear especially on areas with high percentages of disabled people as well as elderly people. Wales has the largest stock of older houses. The Government have shown again that they are determined to clobber the elderly. They have clobbered them with value added tax on domestic fuel and by refusing to put money into home insulation. We are now seeing just one further example of how the Government do not care a fig about the elderly in our community.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

Once again, I agree with my hon. Friend. It is regrettable that we are having to take the Bill in this way. The Minister did me the courtesy, which I appreciate, of having a discussion with me about the Bill. I approached him, as did Age Concern, and we had a courteous meeting, for which I am grateful. In the course of that meeting I said to the Minister that I was anxious that the Bill should be a non-party matter, and I think that I have demonstrated that.

I took steps to ensure that the sponsors were cross-party. Everyone knows that that is quite a difficult thing to do. I offended some of my hon. Friends by preferring to take Conservative Members and members of other parties. I did so because I wanted the Bill to be a cross-party matter. I told the Minister—

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

I shall give way in a moment. I ask my hon. Friends to let me intervene in my own speech.

I told the Minister that I do not need to use cold weather payments to batter the Government. I have numerous issues with which I can batter them, as has every Opposition Member. We did not need cold weather payments for that purpose.

I have been accused by some hon. Members of electioneering. Yet Age Concern, which is a non-party organisation, offered the Bill to every Member who secured a place in the ballot, and far more Tories than Labour Members came up in it. I was the one, however, who took the Bill. If the matter becomes party political, it is through no fault of mine.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

May I say to my hon. Friend on behalf of my colleagues in the northern region and the north of England that throughout that region, where there has been extremely bad weather this year, there are hundreds of thousands of people who are hoping that the Bill will pass through the House today? It is vital that that should happen if deaths are to be avoided during the winter months. Will my hon. Friend press the Minister to establish whether he is prepared to give the Bill Government time, even at this late stage, so as to ensure that it gets on the statute book within a matter of days, and helps people who are living in great difficulties?

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

I would like that to happen, and I have no doubt that the Minister is listening. I am anxious to make progress in explaining the merits of the Bill.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) was first.

Photo of Mr Llew Smith Mr Llew Smith , Blaenau Gwent

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Minister—who is obviously determined to kill the Bill— represents Monmouth, which contains the community of Llanelly Hill? A large proportion of that community is elderly. It is one of the poorest parts of the constituency—if not the poorest. It is certainly one of the coldest parts of Wales. Will my hon. Friend do the senior citizens in that community a service by ensuring that the conclusions of this debate are sent to the local papers in that area? That will help to ensure that the Minister, who represents a marginal constituency, will not be here in a few months' time.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. The hon. Lady said that she was going to make progress on her Bill. Perhaps now would be an appropriate time to start. [Interruption.] Order. The last intervention was particularly long, and the one before that was equally long. If interventions are made, they should be short. We have had many interventions. I assume that hon. Members have come to listen to the hon. Lady present her Bill and not to make interventions.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

What we are seeing is the consequence of feelings and opinions being held back all morning. Hon. Members have been waiting to take part in this debate. When I tabled this modest, cross-party Bill—I shall describe its modesty and utility shortly—I hoped and expected that there would be an adequate debate. I planned to make a short speech, so I did not particularly want hon. Members to intervene. I wanted to give other hon. Members a chance to speak, but they are being deprived of that chance both on the Floor of the House and in Committee. I am conscious of the sweep of passion about this matter.

Hon. Members may be interested to know that they should all be wary, because a week ago Age Concern had collected no fewer than 2,500 column centimetres of coverage in local newspapers. This matter has attracted a great deal of interest. Journalists have been surprisingly quick to understand the merits of the Bill.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty , Falkirk East

My hon. Friend is making it clear why so many of our hon. Friends are present today. I travelled from Scotland after an engagement hoping to take part in a full debate and vote.

The Minister was also the Minister who was on the Committee considering the statutory instrument on social fund cold weather payments on 18 December 1996. Opposition on that occasion was supplied by four Labour Members: my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Davidson), for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes), for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) and myself. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central referred to what the Meteorological Office's report said about taking the wind chill factor into account. It said: The Met. Office recommends that once a means of incorporating forecasting into the direct calculation system has been devised, consideration may be given to a trial being carried out. The Minister replied: If we continue to explore the question of wind chill and, possibly, a more complex modelling recommendations may be put before the House next summer or autumn".—[Official Report, Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, 18 December 1996; c. 5, 10.]

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. I have already made a firm ruling from the Chair that interventions should be short. The hon. Gentleman spoke for more than a minute. That is not acceptable.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

My hon. Friend made a valid point. If the Government are so keen on a review, why have they not already instigated one? The Minister made a similar point when he said that the Bill was unnecessary because he could amend the regulations. We know that, but he has not done so. Nor has he made any firm promises to that effect.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

As convenor of the all-party warm homes group, which is well represented in the House today, may I thank the hon. Lady for introducing the Bill and for the coherent and co-operative way in which she has worked to ensure that it received cross-party support? We both realise that the Bill will not solve all the problems faced by people who suffer fuel poverty, but it is particularly urgent given the Government's cut in the home energy efficiency scheme and the fact that Britain suffers excess winter deaths. In Finland, excess winter deaths are only 9 per cent. on average while in Scotland they are 16 per cent. That demonstrates the urgency of addressing the matter and the Bill certainly represents a major step forward.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

The hon. Lady is right and I shall expand on some of the points that she raised. I am grateful to the all-party warm homes group, the all-party group on pensioners and the all-party group on disability for their support. If there is a party row about the Bill, it is certainly not my fault nor that of other hon. Members who are concerned about social issues.

Photo of Dr Joseph Hendron Dr Joseph Hendron , Belfast West

On behalf of all the elderly people in Northern Ireland, I thank the hon. Lady for introducing the Bill. I should like to raise one central point. She referred to hypothermia. Wearing my medical hat, let me say that hypothermia sometimes appears on death certificates, but it also affects many people who die of chronic heart failure or chronic obstructive airways disease. I have no doubt that for thousands of people death is hastened by hypothermia even though it does not appear on their death certificates.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

I am well aware of that. It is a medical fact that cold weather thickens the blood. That is why it is beneficial for elderly people who can afford to do so to spend the winter in the Algarve because the warm weather prolongs their lives. That is not within the reach of most people, but we should do everything we can to help elderly people heat their homes so that their blood does not congeal.

The same applies to people with disabilities. New babies also have very unstable thermostats. The Royal College of Nursing pointed out that disabled children are particularly vulnerable because of their lack of mobility. It is all very well for us. Not only are we in warm buildings, but we can move about, exercise and keep warm.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

I shall give way in a moment, but I have given way many times and I should like to make some progress. I doubt whether the hon. Gentleman is here to support the Bill.

Many elderly people who cannot afford proper heating dread cold weather. The Bill has received support not only from elderly people but from people who are not pensioners, do not qualify for cold weather payments and are not on low incomes. During the cold weather there was a wave of sympathy and empathy for elderly people who were sitting at one-bar fires or turning off the heating. Most of them do not have central heating, so it is a matter not of turning down the thermostat but of turning the heating off. There was a wave of feeling on the part of those who are able to keep warm for those who are not—an interesting social phenomenon that is not often found on benefits issues.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes , Ilford South

I congratulate my hon. Friend on presenting her Bill. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty), I was a member of the Committee that discussed the changes to the stations that are used to measure cold weather. That led to some improvements. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is no point in tinkering at the margins, but that we should deal with the fundamental problems of cold weather payments? Few people get them and the way in which they get them leaves a great deal to be desired. I and many other hon. Members have had many letters from constituents who are unhappy about the current situation. This is the opportunity to put matters right.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

My hon. Friend is right. The cold weather payments scheme is better than nothing, but it is deficient in many ways. Eligibility is limited to those on income support and that leaves out of account people who are just above that level but who find it equally difficult to heat their homes. Hon. Members and Age Concern have had much correspondence from people in that position. Hon. Members will know, but other people may not, that it is not possible to solve that problem by way of a private Member's Bill, nor is it possible to reduce the number of days from seven to a more reasonable figure. The Bill is modest, partly because I have no alternative and partly because its very modesty gives it some extra power.

Photo of John Austin-Walker John Austin-Walker , Woolwich

The Bill goes as far as my hon. Friend is able to take it. I welcome the way in which she has tried to get all-party consensus on the issue and the offer by the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Sir A. Bowden) and her acceptance of it. In view of his comments about the home energy efficiency scheme, will my hon. Friend ask the hon. Member for Kemptown and other Conservative Members whether in their letter to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, they will request a commitment to reinstate the cuts in the home energy efficiency scheme and institute a cut in VAT on fuel? That would go a long way towards reducing hypothermia, especially among the people my hon. Friend has mentioned, who are just above the limit for eligibility for cold weather payments.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

I agree with my hon. Friend. I am whole-heartedly in favour of insulation. The cold weather payments scheme is an emergency one.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

I should like to make a little more progress.

As I have said, the cold weather payments scheme is an emergency one and not the whole solution. The Government say that the solution is insulation and have issued statements to that effect, but they have cut the insulation scheme by £30 million and that shows that they have a brass neck. There were strong protests and the Government were told not to cut the HEES, but they did. It is not the responsibility of the Minister who will reply to the debate but that of a different Department and they should talk to each other.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

The hon. Gentleman should have told his hon. Friends to allow a debate on this matter.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans , Ribble Valley

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. How can my hon. Friends, who sympathise with the thrust of the Bill, make our point if we are not allowed to make a normal intervention?

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

That is not a matter for the Chair.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

Some 158 hon. Members signed the early-day motion supporting the Bill. I do not think that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) did. He had the opportunity and I feel more responsibility to those 158 Members than to him.

Insulation is important and the Government should not have cut their scheme. They have forced a waiting list for it, and many people will die before their turn comes. It will be many years before insulation grants can make much progress in solving the problem. We will co-operate with and support moves for insulation grant systems but they should not be used to beat this Bill, which deals with emergency payments.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most serious problems with the current system is the inappropriate siting of weather stations? The weather station at Glasgow airport, which is responsible for my constituency, is at sea level while many of my elderly constituents live several hundred feet above sea level.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

My hon. Friend is right. To be fair to the Government—I do not know why I should, but I will—they have helped by increasing the number of weather stations from 55 to 70. I am sure all Opposition Members welcome that. Nevertheless, so long as only the air temperature is considered, and not the wind chill factor, some places will find that the coldness that they experience is underestimated. That especially affects coastal and upland areas.

Photo of Mr Bill Michie Mr Bill Michie , Sheffield, Heeley

To continue that theme, thousands of pensioners in Sheffield do not get the cold weather payment because the monitoring stations are well outside the city. Sheffield is built on five hills and it is like a wind tunnel. I welcome the Bill, which would help thousands of our pensioners who live on the tops of hills.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

My hon. Friend is right.

The measurement of air temperature gives a rough and ready approximation of the problems of pensioners and other poor people who live, as most of them do, in badly insulated houses. We could not get a precise measure unless we stuck a thermometer in every person's home, but no one is suggesting that; we believe that instead of one measure, there should be two.

It is interesting that of the 15 weather stations where payments have not yet been triggered, 14 are in coastal areas. On Wednesday, one Minister seemed to think that that was an argument for the Government. I think that it is an argument for us. I am a Geordie and I remember vividly from my childhood the bitterly cold east winds in Newcastle, which is one of the places where a payment has not been triggered. Where is the sense in that? That fact alone condemns the present measurement.

Preston is rather warmer than the east coast, but a payment has been triggered. Two would have been triggered if wind chill had been taken into account, because one would have been triggered over the Christmas week.

Most interesting of all is the fact that the first payment to be triggered in England was at Liscombe in Somerset. That is fine, but Yeovilton weather station—which is right next to Liscombe—did not trigger a payment. It showed a temperature of 1.5 deg C. Taking wind chill into account at Yeovilton—in Somerset, which is not represented by Labour Members—the effective temperature was minus 6.5 deg C, which would have triggered a payment. Surely no hon. Member would say that that would have been an unnecessary payment.

I am told that the scheme needs piloting—yet the Government managed to transform the entire health service without a single pilot scheme.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

Does my hon. Friend accept that I share her anger about the Government conspiring to kill off the Bill and insulting 10 million people in Britain in families who have only income support to keep them warm over the winter? Does she also acknowledge that it is scandalous that in August 1996 the Meteorological Office offered the Government a trial period using six weather stations in Scotland at a cost of £600, but that to date the Government have not said whether they intend to take it up? Does my hon. Friend accept that the Government are not only trying to kill the Bill but heaping insult upon injury for every pensioner and poor family the length and breadth of Britain?

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

My hon. Friend is right. We are told that wind chill makes people colder, but that it is buildings that are affected by the cold weather payments. All surfaces, whether skin or brick, lose heat to the outside air, whether we like it or not. That is why we cover ourselves up. We lose heat through the walls of our houses. The more poorly insulated the house, the more heat is lost. Just as the wind whips the heat more quickly from one's cheeks and nose end, so it does from the outside walls of houses.

The measurement of the wind chill factor that we recommend should be used is called the Siple-Passel measure. It was originally designed to measure the wind chill effect on inanimate objects. It is the most useful and sensible, cheapest and easiest formula to use. For goodness sake, let us do it.

Photo of Mrs Diana Maddock Mrs Diana Maddock , Christchurch

As one of the vice-chairmen of the all-party warm homes group, I congratulate the hon. Lady on introducing the Bill. I hope that she agrees that one of the reasons why it is so urgent that we do something is that the Government and we as a nation have been so laggardly about properly insulating buildings. If homes were insulated, pensioners would be able to turn up the heat and their bills would not increase.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

There is a Bill in circulation to introduce a 15-year programme of insulation. Many Members of Parliament have given their support to it, as have I, but it would cost more than my Bill. My Bill is not a costly measure. I have been asked how much it would cost. We have asked the Minister how much the present scheme will cost next year. He cannot tell us. It all depends on the weather. That is the point of it.

Last winter, the cold weather payments system cost £62 million. The winter before that, it cost £77,000. So the Government cannot forecast the cost, but of the last six winters, only one could be counted as expensive.

Age Concern obtained some extra figures about last winter—the expensive one—from the Meteorological Office and extrapolated from them an estimate of the difference that the Bill would have made if it had been in operation last winter. The extra cost would have been £20 million. I think that that would have been money well spent, but next winter might be mild. We are not asking for a fortune from the Treasury. There could not be a more targeted measure. It is too targeted for my taste. I have made enormous concessions here. I believe in more universal benefits and I do not apologise for that.

However, I am a realist and I want progress. I would rather have the whole loaf. I would rather have the whole bakery, but I will take some crumbs and say thank you. However, we are not even getting that.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South

Has my hon. Friend calculated how much spending that £20 million would save the national health service on beds and medical payments and how much would be saved on costs such as funeral services and everything else?

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

Yes. That is exactly the point made by the Royal College of Nursing, which I quoted earlier.

I have to admit that there would be one extra cost. Age Concern estimates that about 50,000 more people over 60 died last winter than in the summer and that many of those deaths were preventable. The largest extra cost would be the cost of paying pensions to the people who lived longer. Do we not want to pay that? Do we not want people to live longer? They would be healthier as well.

The Minister has complained to me that the Bill is too vague. We left it vague to give the Government scope for action. If I had said that the Siple-Passel formula should be used, the Government would have said, "Oh no, we intend to use the Steadman formula. If you had put that, we would have agreed to the Bill." We left it vague in order to leave the initiative in the hands of Ministers, but we are then criticised for doing so.

We have been told that it would have been better to amend the cold weather payments in a different way. I went to see the Minister on Wednesday; if he had said that the Government intended to introduce their own Bill or their own regulations, I would have said okay and given way to someone else in the queue—but it was not said.

We have also been told that one fault or problem in my little Bill—I am sure that every hon. Member has a copy—arises under clause 1(2), which relates to forecasts. We agree that it is much harder to forecast the wind chill effect than it is to forecast air temperatures, but that does not matter. So what if the Met Office did not forecast such a chill, so there would be no forecast to trigger the payments? There is no reason why an actual effect, which is recorded, should not trigger such payments. The Minister seems to have a lot of quibbles about supposedly technical points.

I was grateful for the help of Dr. Brian Giles, editor of the International Journal of Climatology, who confirmed that my layman's approach to the topic was correct. He assured me that my commonsense approach was perfectly good scientifically and that any other difficulty related to bureaucratic problems and not to scientific or climatic ones.

I have been placed in some difficulty today. I wanted to be brief, and I know that some hon. Members are worried that I may be accused of filibustering on my own Bill. However, I have already been made well aware that my Bill will not secure a Second Reading, so it would be a bit rich for the Government to try to accuse me of talking it out. I only hope that my brief contribution being interwoven with so many interventions has not led me to omit some crucial point from the speech on which I had previously slaved and which has been torn to shreds.

I thought that it was important to allow the mood of all of my hon. Friends on the Opposition Benches, and of a few hon. Members on the Conservative Benches, to be brought to the fore and noted. The debate is being watched by the public and judgments are being made by them not only about the Government but about the House.

If the Bill is badly drafted, vaguely worded or whatever the Government are saying, it should go into Committee for further public examination in a democratic manner.

I have made an unusually long contribution because I feel that I have had to substitute for the whole debate. I am very grateful to all those hon. Members who have taken part in this rather odd debate. They came prepared, and we would have had 100 Members to vote if you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, had accepted the closure motion. Those of my hon. Friends who are present are not just the London contingent, although I am grateful for their presence, but a representative gathering.

I now await with interest what the Minister has to say. If he finds that he is a little bit short of time, we will re-issue the Conservative party statement together with our answers to it in order to help him out.

Photo of Mr Richard Alexander Mr Richard Alexander , Newark 2:23, 17 January 1997

This debate has been allocated 55 minutes, of which the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) has spoken for 47—

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm that more speakers have spoken in the debate on my hon. Friend's Bill than on the preceding Bill, which went through the House of Commons almost on the nod? Will you also confirm that representatives of five different political parties have stood during the debate to confirm their support for the Bill? Will you further confirm that if every hon. Member takes his or her seat now, we can have a Division and give the Bill a Second Reading or carry it through on the nod? I am asking you for confirmation of the procedural points that I have made.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

First, there were certainly more speeches in the debate on the previous Bill, which has completed all its stages. Secondly, I keep no track of the number of interventions, but I know that a number of them were excessively long. Thirdly, as for the hon. Gentleman's point about procedural matters, I shall have to wait and see how the House progresses.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should be grateful for your comments on the fact that a large number of my hon. Friends have taken time to come to the House today, often giving up constituency matters and travelling long distances. They have sought to help my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) by not standing to he called to speak, anticipating that the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans), would want to address the House, to try to explain why the Government have conspired to kill the Bill and why they have dragged their feet over it, regardless of its merits. Now, insult is being heaped on injury by the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander), who is talking out the Bill when so many hon. Members want to support it and see it get on to the statute book. Will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, make a judgment on that?

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

The Chair cannot make a judgment on anything of that nature.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty , Falkirk East

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

Photo of Mr Richard Alexander Mr Richard Alexander , Newark

The allegation, which I totally refute—

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

I hope that it is a new point of order.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

It is, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will we receive an indication of whether the Minister is to speak?

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

I have only just called the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) and we await his speech.

Photo of Mr Richard Alexander Mr Richard Alexander , Newark

If the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) had waited, he would have heard that I support the Bill and have come to make a speech in support of it. If the hon. Member for Preston had not spent so much time complaining that the previous Bill had been filibustered, she would have heard speeches from many other hon. Members. I totally refute the argument that I have come to filibuster to ensure that the Bill does not make progress, and I shall now sit down, to allow my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to make his response.

Photo of Mr Roger Evans Mr Roger Evans , Monmouth 2:27, 17 January 1997

I congratulate the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) on raising this important issue, but the Bill, as drawn up, is substantially wrong: the difficulties are technical and practical.

I stress—as the hon. Lady fairly said—that the measure is unnecessary because we have all the statutory powers we need, under section 138 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992, to make regulations taking into account wind chill if we are persuaded that that is practical and appropriate. The second reason why the provision is unnecessary—the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) got it completely wrong—is that this summer, when we reviewed, as we do every year, the cold weather payments system, we asked the Meteorological Office to advise us on wind chill. We placed in the Library the Meteorological Office's report, which identified the difficulties of taking it into account straight away and made recommendations for further work.

As I explained to the Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, we are examining in a number of ways whether it is practical and appropriate to take wind chill into account in those regulations. I stress—this is where today's debate has gone wrong—that there is no accepted practical way of doing so, given the present state of knowledge.

Let us be quite clear: were the Bill to become law tomorrow, the only result would be chaos, because it is unworkable. It would be chaos because—as the hon. Lady properly explained—on the forecasting element, the Bill directs the adjudicating officers, who are independent, to take account of a forecast, which cannot properly be done. How that can be said—

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

Photo of Mr Roger Evans Mr Roger Evans , Monmouth

How that can be said to be an appropriate way to legislate is beyond comprehension. The problem with the Bill is that it is both vague and impracticable.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.