Orders of the Day — Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:59 am on 10th March 2000.

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Photo of Ms Jenny Jones Ms Jenny Jones Labour, Wolverhampton South West 11:59 am, 10th March 2000

I join Labour Members in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), who used his good fortune in the private Member's Bill ballot, being drawn No. 5, to introduce what is a very important and popular Bill. We all owe him a debt of gratitude. Like other Labour Members, I hope that having the support of so many Members on the Government Benches will not ruin his street cred.

I endorse the tributes that the hon. Gentleman paid to my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton (Mrs. Gilroy) and for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) and to the Conservative Members who have put so much work into the issue. On a sadder note, let me say that I support the Bill, and so did Michael Colvin. He and I served on the Council of Europe delegation, so I knew him quite well. I think that I speak for everyone on the delegation when I say how sad we were at the death of Michael and his wife Nichola. We will miss them very much.

Members have spoken eloquently about fuel poverty and its effect on people's lives. I shall not repeat the point. I completely agree with all hon. Members who think that it is a scandal that, just as we enter the 21st century, people simply cannot heat their homes adequately because they are poor and so suffer from all those illnesses, some dying unnecessarily.

I will be brief because I know that other hon. Members want to get in. I make just two points. The Bill's greatest strength is that it uses energy conservation and energy efficiency to tackle fuel poverty. Those of us who are of a certain age in the House—the age of wisdom and experience—will no doubt remember the save it campaign of the 1970s. Because of the oil crisis, there was a national awareness campaign. For the first time, many people had to think about where energy came from, how we used it and could save it. It was probably the first time that many people who could afford to do so started to insulate their homes. They began to realise how much energy we were wasting.

Times have moved on. Oddly, I agree with the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who said that, if we try to tackle the issue just by lowering fuel prices, we will be in great danger of increasing the pollution that comes about from the energy sources that we use. Grants for people who cannot adequately heat their homes and reducing fuel prices alone will not solve the basic issue. We have to think about where our energy comes from and how to conserve it.

I think that developing renewable energy sources should be a far greater priority, but that is a debate for another day. If I discussed that now, Mr. Deputy Speaker would no doubt quickly rein me in, as it is not the subject of the Bill. Nevertheless, it is an important issue. We have to think about where our energy comes from. The fact that the Bill emphasises energy conservation is its main strength.

The second point is about job creation. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) rightly linked job creation with environment-friendly initiatives and economic development. We have all had the figures quoted at us as to how many jobs the Bill could create if it became law. I am sure that that is true, but the issue is how those jobs are created and where, and whom they will benefit.

I represent an urban constituency in the midlands. For several years, in Wolverhampton and the black country, some extremely effective community business and community enterprise initiatives have got off the ground on some of our poorest and most deprived housing estates. The chances are that people who live on those estates will benefit from the Bill. Community enterprise has demonstrated that unemployed people who live in an area where they have no other chance of securing employment can create their own jobs by providing services that the area has lacked. Home insulation and energy conservation initiatives will not only benefit those people and improve their housing, but will create jobs.

I reiterate that, in the 21st century, people are still suffering from poverty and are unable to heat their homes adequately. I believe that Ministers support the Bill, and I hope that the Bill will not be talked out today. I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend the Minister say that the Government will, if necessary, support the Bill as if it were their own.