Fuel Poverty Bill

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 12:14 pm on 20th March 2009.

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Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change) 12:14 pm, 20th March 2009

I begin by joining other Members in paying tribute to Mr. Heath both for being successful in the ballot and having his prayers answered this year, and for his choice of subject. This is without doubt an extraordinarily important issue. As Stephen Pound has just said, the passion it generates is equally strong among Members in all parts of the House; Members in all parties are extremely concerned about fuel poverty and serious in their efforts to combat it. Rather than in any way denying that there is an issue to address, we are all looking for the best way to do so.

I echo the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome in paying tribute to the organisations that have worked with him and helped to introduce the Bill. He mentioned the Association for the Conservation of Energy. If it were appropriate to single out one individual, it would be Ron Bailey, who has done immense work not only on this Bill, but on others. He is a tireless campaigner on fuel poverty, and Members on both sides of the House owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.

I greatly welcome the constructive approach taken by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome. We welcome his willingness to say that we should look to achieve a band C level of energy efficiency rather than a band B level if that would make it easier for the Government to accept the Bill. We also welcome the Bill's broad nature. It is extremely important that it addresses issues of microgeneration and does not just deal with energy efficiency and energy conservation. It is crucial for us, as a nation, to start to address all those issues with greater clarity and determination.

We all broadly welcome the Bill's objectives, and I think we can also all agree that fuel poverty has generally been getting worse over recent years and that home energy efficiency in this country is nothing like good enough. The hon. Gentleman said that good intentions are not enough, and that is a key point. I listened to the speech made by the hon. Member for Ealing, North, and he seemed to feel that the Government were doing enough already—he said that the Bill was "superfluous". In a way he was Shakespeare's Brutus—he had come not to bury the Bill but to praise it, but listening to some of his words, one found that the intention was rather similar. I appreciate the passion and sincerity that he brought to the debate, but I remain concerned because it is generally recognised that we are not doing enough to address fuel poverty.

We are not on track to have secure energy supplies, low-carbon energy generation or affordable energy, and those three requirements matter very much to this House and to the country outside. The thinking behind this Bill is an attempt to address a couple of those particular challenges. The Government's fuel poverty strategy has called for the eradication of fuel poverty in vulnerable households by 2010, and in all households by 2016 in England and a little later in Scotland. In an intervention, the Minister said that she was concerned that the Bill advanced an "absolutist position", yet the Government's target was to abolish all fuel poverty by 22 November 2016. One cannot get much more absolutist than that, although I know that she has not specified whether it is intended that that will happen before lunch or after lunch on that date.

In addition, when those targets were set they were never talked about in terms of being "as far as practicably possible"—those words have been cited subsequently in order to get the Government off a hook of their own making. We can clearly see that they are not going to meet the 2010 target because, as the hon. Member for Ealing, North said, the situation has been getting worse as the number in fuel poverty has been increasing.

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