Orders of the Day — Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:55 am on 10th March 2000.

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Photo of Mr Roy Beggs Mr Roy Beggs UUP, East Antrim 11:55 am, 10th March 2000

I am pleased to offer my support for this crucial Bill. The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) deserves great credit for taking up the issue, and for bringing it this far with so much support. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), our party Whip, is a sponsor, signifying the support of the Ulster Unionists. I also pay tribute to the hon. Members for Plymouth, Sutton (Mrs. Gilroy) and for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), who have persistently pushed for the Bill to be taken seriously. I am sure that they are delighted by the Bill's progress.

The need to ensure that some of the most vulnerable members of society can be warm in their homes is, I am sure, recognised by all hon. Members. The links between cold homes and ill health are obvious to us all. Those links, however, are not just a question of common sense; they are backed up by scientists and doctors. Numerous reports can be quoted to make those links clear—Sir Donald Acheson's recent report on health, work by the Building Research Establishment and reports by the House's own Select Committees, such as the recent Environment Audit Committee report on energy efficiency.

We should be ashamed of the increased number of deaths in winter. I am appalled by the fact that more than 1,200 excess deaths have been recorded, or estimated, in Northern Ireland. Hon. Members have acknowledged the harshness of our winters, which is comparable to those in Scotland. We should not tolerate the fact that our record is so much worse than that of other European countries—and deaths are only one aspect of the misery that is being caused.

Thousands of people are made ill because their homes are cold each winter. Doctors must despair when they treat people successfully in hospital, curing them of illness, only to have to send them straight back to the cold, damp homes that made them ill in the first place. We must aim, as the Bill does, to tackle the causes of the problems, rather than just treating the symptoms.

The Bill would also have environmental benefits. Insulation helps to prevent energy from being wasted, and that is an important part of our commitment to tackling climate change. While it is always difficult to link particular weather events to climate change, evidence suggests that the recent terrible floods in Mozambique are exactly the type of disaster that we shall see more and more often as the climate heats up. Preventing that from happening is one of the greatest challenges faced by Governments throughout the world.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Southend, West again and the many other hon. Members who have backed the measure over the past few years. I wish the Bill well and hope that it will become law. I regret that, too often, Northern Ireland has to wait for the step-by-step procedure to benefit from good legislation that applies in Great Britain. I ask him to consider the position in Northern Ireland and how the measure, when enacted, might, at the earliest possible date, be applied there.