Fuel Poverty Bill

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 12:34 pm on 20th March 2009.

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Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon 12:34 pm, 20th March 2009

I am not saying that, because the policy would be set out in the Bill and the Government would bring it forward. I shall say more about that later. The issue is not the policy but the duty.

Clause 2(1) is absolutely prescriptive: by 31 December 2016 a given number of households must be taken out of fuel poverty. If by 2014 it looks as though that target will not be met, somebody will no doubt go to court and demand that the Government divert their last penny to achieve it. Judges could order the Government to do that, no matter what the social consequences elsewhere. Indeed, not only could judges do that, they would have to do it, because that is the absolute interpretation of the law—to the letter. They would have no choice, irrespective of the consequences, even to court budgets. Judges might have to be made redundant to give effect to the policy. Some people might think that a good idea, but it could be one of the unintended consequences of the way in which that absolute duty is phrased in the Bill, which is why when the Human Rights Committee looked at such things in great detail we came to the conclusion that there could be no direct justiciability for what are in effect social and economic rights. It would be too dangerous to give such power to the courts, and it would significantly change the constitutional settlement of the UK. I am sorry to be so heavy on the Bill in that respect, but it could be the thin end of a large wedge.

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