Fuel Poverty Bill

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 9:49 am on 20th March 2009.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 9:49 am, 20th March 2009

May I just deal with these issues for the moment? The most important is the one to which Mr. Dismore referred. The most recent enactment was the 2000 Act, which we all felt put a clear duty on the Government to eliminate fuel poverty, with a time scale in which to do so. I do not think that there was any dubiety among Members of the House or among members of the Government as to the duty that that particular enactment conferred. That was the case until 17 October when the High Court determined that it was not a duty in the sense that any of us understand a duty and that it was merely a desirable outcome as far as the Government are concerned.

That brings me to the justiciability of the duty. I have carefully set out in this Bill a duty to produce a strategy. That is a perfectly reasonable duty and I think that any court would hold that it is a perfectly reasonable duty for the Government to have. It is not a duplication of the previous duty—the one struck down by the High Court in a decision that, I believe, is still subject to appeal—because that would be a futile action on the part of the House. My proposal is framed in an entirely different way, but it reinstates what I believe to have been and, I assume, still are, the Government's intentions.

I have good reason to believe they are the Government's intentions because they have said so repeatedly. Labour's election manifesto in 2005 stated:

"Our goal is to eliminate fuel poverty for vulnerable groups by 2010, and for all by 2015."

That target has slipped a little, but my Bill's provision in respect of 2016 is consistent with Labour's manifesto. The then Minister of State in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Ian Pearson, said in May 2006 that

"the Government remains committed to achieving...the targets"— set pursuant to the 2000 Act.

He went on to say that

"we aim to eradicate the range of consequences of fuel poverty".

The Minister who sits on the Treasury Bench today, the Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Joan Ruddock, in giving evidence to the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 14 January—only a couple of months ago—said that the Government

"do not intend to miss the 2016 target".

There is a very clear intention on the part of the Government to do what my Bill requests.

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