Heath’s fuel poverty bill – what next?

Well, nothing, that’s what

Last Friday, a staggering majority of those present (89 to 2) voted to proceed with the bill but parliamentary procedure requires 100 MPs to be present for the bill to proceed to a full vote. As the Times put it with admirable clarity:

The Fuel Poverty Bill has been thrown out of parliament because not enough MPs could be bothered to vote.

I am one of those still picking their jaws off the floor about this. Surely to goodness if there was ever a bill it was worth catching a slightly later train on Friday for it was this one.

The cause is unimpeachable. It was plainly chosen to be unimpeachable. Yes, various Members might have disagreed on the ways and means, but that’s what debate is for. As one attendee put it:

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) on bringing in his Bill today. He has done the House a real service in doing so, thereby allowing us to debate some extremely important issues associated with fuel poverty. Nobody in the House today has argued to the contrary of the Bill’s general purpose. We can all agree with the purpose of the Bill as set out in clause 1—to eradicate fuel poverty.

Well, apparently not. Apparently, this is not a purpose sufficiently agreeable to many of the other 552 MPs who were not present. As to party balance, I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves. The 90 voters and 4 tellers* comprised:

20 Conservatives (out of 193)

28 Labour (out of 350)

45 Liberal Democrats (out of 63)

1 independent

Where were you at the time of the Second Reading?

Some of the absentees may have had perfectly good reasons for needing to get away, of course. A distant constituency is enough of a hassle without staying in London an extra day as well – and an MP’s duty is to attend to their constituency first and Westminster second.

But does the distance argument really apply to all of them? 90% of the Conservative party and over 90% of the Labour party? And not a single front bencher from either? Not interested in the fact that the poorest people in Britain pay more per unit for their heat than the richest, and that some of them effectively froze to death this winter?

Curioser and curioser, I find that on Wednesday 11th March, just over a week before the debate, Labour MP Alan Simpson tabled an Early Day Motion in support of the Fuel Poverty Bill, which at the time of writing has been signed by 172 MPs, including 16 Conservatives, 85 Labour and 60 Liberal Democrats.

You’ll note that even more Conservatives than signed the EDM eventually turned out for the vote (though in either case the numbers are pretty pathetic, and in fact there is a large mismatch between those who signed and those who voted). But Labour MPs who had supported the EDM dwindled to a quarter of their strength by the time the vote came round. (This comes with a qualifier as there doesn’t seem to be any way of telling when an MP signed a particular EDM.)

Now, I don’t know whether EDMs really mean much, or what numbers have to sign them before the issue is considered important. So let’s look to a man who does, Tom Harris MP:

they can serve as a useful temperature gauge of MPs’ views in certain policy areas; ministers sit up and take note when any motion starts to gain the support of more than 100 or so MPs.

Taken together with the contrasting EDM and debate figures it seems clear that the government, alerted by the number of signatures flooding on to Simpson’s EDM, must have been doing a frantic turn of whipping against the Fuel Poverty Bill.  And Chief Whip Nick Brown was the token government man present to go through the Nay lobby.

Just to get this absolutely straight, it seems that Labour, the supposed party of the working man and the disadvantaged,  has prevented its own people from supporting the cause of some of the poorest people in society all for the sake of not having an opposition bill go through. And no, I’m not even surprised any more.

What to do?

Better late than never. If we weren’t watching at the time, we can at least let them know we’re watching now. I want each and every one of the MPs who wasn’t there last Friday to get a letter, at least one, from a constituent, politely asking why.

1. Find out whether your MP is on the magic list of attendees here.

2. If they weren’t, email them to ask them why here. And if they signed the EDM and then didn’t vote, ask them what changed their mind.

3. And you could report your concerns to your local paper – find contact details here.

4. It would help if you popped your MP’s name into the comments below so that we know they’ve been done – though more than one email is better still.

5. If your MP is on the magic list, carry out the positive version of steps 2 and 3.

Then we’ll put the answers together and root out the bad apples.

MPs are of course responsible to their constituents, not random political nerds on the internet. Nonetheless, our own people are very welcome to supply their reasons/alternative schedules in the comments below (including The Dear Leader, hem hem).

* 90 voters as opposed to 91 because Jim Cousins went through both lobbies.

By way of an appendix:

MPs who signed the EDM  and did not then come to vote.

Lib Dems (17):

John Barrett

Jeremy Browne

Menzies Campbell

Alistair Carmichael

Nick Clegg

Andrew George

Charles Kennedy

David Laws

Mark Oaten

John Pugh

Willie Rennie

Adrian Sanders

Robert Smith

Jo  Swinson

John Thurso

Phil Willis

Jenny Willott

Tories (13):

David Amess

Richard Bacon

Brian Binley

Alistair Burt

David Davies

Nadine Dorries

Mark Field

Robert Key

Anne Main

Lee Scott

Richard Shepherd

David Tredinnick

Ann Winterton

Labour (58):

Diane Abbott

Nick Ainger

Janet Anderson

Charlotte Atkins

John  Austin

John Battle

Joe Benton

Roger Berry

Clive Betts

David Borrow

Colin Burgon

Ronnie Campbell

Colin Challen

David Chaytor

Michael Clapham

David Clelland

Michael Connarty

Frank Cook

David Crausby

Jon Cruddas

Ann Cryer

Claire Curtis-Thomas

Janet Dean

Jim Devine

Bill Etherington

Paul Flynn

Michael Jabez Foster

Bruce George

Neil Gerrard

Ian Gibson

Fabian Hamilton

Dai Havard

David Heyes

Joan Humble

Brian Iddon

Peter Kilfoyle

Tony Lloyd

Andrew Mackinlay

John Mann

Gordon Marsden

Bob Marshall-Andrews

Michael Meacher

Austin Mitchell

Edward O’Hara

Bill Olner

Sandra Osborne

Gordon Prentice

Lindsay Roy

Alan Simpson

Marsha Singh

Ian Stewart

Howard Stoate

Dari Taylor

Rudi Vis

Joan Walley

Alan Whitehead

Betty Williams

Tony Wright

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32 Comments

  • Painfully Liberal 24th Mar '09 - 2:22pm

    Hear Hear Alix. MPs should be brought to account over this (frankly a bit more of a lobbying excersize before the reading might have been an idea but we are where we are.)

    There a few people especially deserving on contact on this matter:

    There are four London MPs who signed the EDM but didn’t vote for closure:
    Labour
    Dianne Abbott – Hackney north and Stoke Newington
    Neil Gerrard – Walthamstow
    Rudi Vis – Finchley and Golders Green
    Conservatives
    Mark Field – Cities of London and Westminster(!)
    None of these really have the excuse that they had to leave to get to their constituencies.

    Alan Simpson (Lab, Nottingham South) deserves special mention for tabling the EDM then not turning up to support the Bill.

    Joan Ruddock, (Lab, Lewisham Deptford), Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change who talked the Bill out.

    Anrew Dismore (Lab, Hendon) gets a special for his intervention at the end of the debate suggesting that the vote on the closure motion meant that Joan Ruddock didn’t have time to end her remarks and thus was the real culprit in bringing down the bill. Carve his name with pride in the annals of Lackeydom.

  • Alix Mortimer 24th Mar '09 - 2:30pm

    “frankly a bit more of a lobbying excersize before the reading might have been an idea ”

    It might indeed. I must say it never crossed my mind that the government would actually whip against something that by rights they could only support, with no reason whatsoever other than sheer partisanship. I know, how naive. I assumed it would be the usual round of technical fighting and constructive amendments and the important point would come later.

  • At the risk of courting a little local unpopularity may I be the first to say this was a mercy killing of a bad bill by the government, not a tragedy of democracy.

    The problems are these:

    1) David Heath’s bill is incoherent. It tries to conflate tackling fuel poverty with tackling climate change and decentralising energy. Given how expensive renewable microgeneration and heat is and will remain for some time compared to alternatives I have to ask why he thinks it will help tackle poverty.

    2) The Bill was not properly costed and the sums involved are potentially enormous. In the Parliamentary debate there was a row about whether it would cost £12bn or £24bn by 2016. Both likely underestimates given the habit of complex government schemes to run over budget. £24bn!!! in a downturn! when the government is broke??? From where is David going to magic this money and what impact will the new taxes required have on the economic recovery?

    3) The Bill attempted, illegally to make it a matter of criminal contempt for the government not to reach the target. Whilst the sight of Ed Miliband, Greg Clark or Simon Hughes being carted off to the clink may be appealing on some level that current Parliaments cannot bind their successors is a principle of our democracy. And this for the good reason that in 2016 there might be more important demands on the public purse, equally valid, but prioritised by the democratic choice of the people.

    4) Did David Heath ever stop to think whether the Labour Party’s barmy Fuel Poverty Target, a product of their loony target culture, and insistence that poverty can be defined by a magic percentile; which in turn leads to targeting of resources at the magic margin; and that is impossible to measure accurately; and is largely dependent on wild fluctuations in commodity markets, was actually a good way of achieving what we actually want i.e.
    – cheaper energy
    – greener energy
    – decent pay
    – decent homes
    – a safety net for the vulnerable
    All these are important progressive/liberal goals, none of these require a fuel poverty target to focus policy.

    5) Why do David, and Steve Webb for that matter not see that social tariffs will simply create poverty traps and entrench disadvantage. You’d have thought that 80 years of poor quality social housing would be a sufficient lesson in the error of fixing prices and benefits rather than making welfare payments flexible to market conditions.

    6) Why do David and the government believe energy utilities should act as welfare providers. They’re not very good at it and it replicates bureaucracy, and increases complexity, at great cost.

    7) Does David recognise that the myriad of overlapping energy efficiency schemes that currently exist are expensive, subject to fraud, poorly utilised by the people they are targeted at, and distort priorities when for some housing a better answer might be knocking it down and building to modern standards through regeneration?

    8) Why should people who can’t afford to upgrade their boilers or install cavity wall insulation, but are not officially fuel poor, the nearly poor if you like, pay for this? Where climate change is concerned it is surely better to tackle the cheapest solutions first, not target the most expensive hard to change housing?

    On the current relative definition of fuel poverty the target can either never be met, or only met by accident due to a sensational scientific breakthrough that really leads to energy ‘too cheap to meter’.

    It really does our party little long-term credit when with the best of intentions we come up with populist policies that we could never deliver if in government, and will no doubt contribute to the next ‘Lib Dem’s unfunded promises’ attack from the other parties. Well done the 17 that stayed away.

  • Alix Mortimer 24th Mar '09 - 3:22pm

    But if any and all of these objections are valid, why weren’t they put to the test? Why would the government undermine an opportunity even to have a meaningful vote on the bill?

    It is not the business of governments to carry out “mercy killings” on legislation. If something stands, it stands. If it falls, it falls. If you’re right then the bill should have fallen in a full vote – it never had the chance, so we’ll never know.

  • In short Alix because Parliamentary time is very short and using it on political stunts by the opposition that will certainly fail means less time for properly debating serious legislation.

    The party got what it wanted out of this PMB, the chance to accuse opponents of being uncaring, Well done us.

    Next time though I’d like to see a well written bill with a serious chance of success that actually does something to make energy cheaper and greener or improve incomes, homes and life chances.

  • I am reminded of the guy who campaigned for years to have a choice in one course on a railway journey.

    After a second option was added in response to his campaign, he still took the first option – he just wanted the choice.

    Technicalities may make a good stick with which to beat the government, but really politics should be about the substance.

    Kind of like complaining about a typo in a press release

  • Painfully Liberal 24th Mar '09 - 3:40pm

    Don’t have time to fully address all of Neil’s points right now but just to cherry pick the easier ones:
    1. I’m unaware that the Bill covers microgeneration or decentralised energy in any way. Are you sure you’re not thinking of the forthcoming Green Energy (Definition and Promotion) Bill?

    7 (or is it point smiley face?) The bill wasn’t limiting the free insulation etc. to the already fuel poor, it proposed to bring all properties up to level B energy efficiency (the level expected of new builds) with a proviso that for buildings where this is deemed impractical, Level C is acceptible (David said in the debate that he was willing to reduce this to levels C and D respectively if it would aid government acceptance)

    2. Yes it’s not cheap (I shall refrain from making obvious bank bailout comparisons) but at a time when many are talking of the need of substantial simul and a need to support the now morribund building industry, why not do it in a way that protects people who are going to be affected the worst by he recession?

    4. As I said, the fuel efficiency programme is not aimed at magic percentiles or margins. Also of course, insulating homes and enacting other fuel efficency measures will make people more secure from the wild fluctuations in commodity markets.

    5 and 6. At the moment the poorest pay the most per unit for energy. Low users pay more than high users, people on pre-pay meters pay dramatically more. Given that energy and heating are essential requirements, how else are we to reverse this situation?

    Thats all the points I’ve mentioned to a greater or lesser extent other than 3. I don’t know enough about that to comment much but i find it hard to believe that governments refrain from ever making commitments that last beyond the length of one parliament. Large procurement projects spring to the top of my head although I accept that they’re somewhat different.

    That was a bit of a stream of consciousness reply, I’ll try to do something more coherent if I get a chance.

  • Alix Mortimer 24th Mar '09 - 3:46pm

    “less time for properly debating serious legislation.”

    This is an absolutely extraordinary motive to attribute to the present government. The number of SIs churned out every year continues to shoot up and go through on the nod – and the material within those SIs comes increasingly to resemble primary legislation. Sheaves of legislation is going unscrutinised. I was glancing down the Coroners and Justice Bill Hansard report yesterday, and gathered that the govt had pushed forward – in the opinion of the debaters – two unnecessary announcements to the early afternoon in order to dock time off the debate session.

    I repeat, it is not the business of governments to carry out mercy killings on legislation. I do not comment on your assessment of the bill because I have not read it. But I really cannot accept as readily as you do the idea that the Labour party should be allowed to decide what is and what is not serious and debate-worthy. In the light of their appalling record on giving time to debate, that would be foolhardy.

  • Painfully Liberal 24th Mar '09 - 3:49pm

    Nial, if you think it’s acceptable for the Government to talk out legislation because they don’t think it can pass and view it as a stunt or whatever, what’s the point of having private members bills at all?

  • Painfully Liberal 24th Mar '09 - 3:57pm

    Oh and if this Bill was all a political stunt then it was one perpetuate by the party, Age Concern England, the Association for the Conservation of Energy, the Centre for Sustainable Energy, Child Poverty Action Group, Consumer Focus, Disability Alliance, Friends of the Earth, Help the Aged and National Right to Fuel Campaign.

  • And how did Consumer Focus think it was going to be paid for?

  • Oh Neil!

    What a shame you didn’t pay closer attention to the Fuel Poverty Bill. As someone who worked on the Bill I can say with confidence that you are wrong on so many counts.

  • PL: in turn

    “1. I’m unaware that the Bill covers (microgen etc.)”

    It’s in the bill… see here…

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmbills/011/09011.1-6.html

    “(3) The Fuel Poverty Strategy must include—

    (a) policies to promote energy efficiency measures and the use of microgeneration installations and locally supplied sustainable energy
    in existing buildings;

    (b) proposals for financial and fiscal measures to promote energy efficiency, microgeneration and locally supplied sustainable energy;”

    “it proposed to bring all properties up to level B energy efficiency”

    You’ve misread it I think, the opening definitions are fairly heavy on parliament-speak, but in defining the Secretary of State’s duty it says in 2)i) that it is about fuel-poverty proofing the homes of the fuel poor and in 2)iii) that the band B/C ratings are what fuel-poverty proofing means.

    To further clarify it says later…

    “The Secretary of State shall take all practicable measures to ensure that as many as possible of the properties that are made fuel poverty proof under this Act are properties that are occupied by persons in fuel poverty.”

    The smiley it seems is what happens when you stick in the number 8 followed by a bracket.

    “(bailout)…many are talking of the need… (help building industry)”

    It’s a point, but the question comes back is this the best way of creating a stimulus, and does it then help to chuck another conflicting social objective into the mix already there. For example would that £24bn be better spent on renovating the boilers in 1960s concrete bunkers or regenerating them entirely? Which has the better long-term impact on poverty, green outcomes, decent homes, low incomes, job creation etc…

    “As I said, the fuel efficiency programme is not aimed at magic percentiles or margins.”

    I agree, but this bill attempts to conflate the two, see the first quotes above.

    “5 and 6. At the moment the poorest pay the most per unit for energy. Low users pay more than high users, people on pre-pay meters pay dramatically more. Given that energy and heating are essential requirements, how else are we to reverse this situation?”

    I think the wrong answer is to introduce a raft of artificial social tariffs that don’t provide any individual or household incentive to save energy, or swtich to more efficient measures of payment, and create poverty traps at them margin.

    General benefits should counter general poverty and it is better, when there are price spikes as there have been recently to provide fixed relief to those in need like the winter fuel payment. If you isolate people from the real cost of things entirely all you do is create dependency.

    We could also help introduce, through the new state banks micro-accounts for benefit payments that would allow those on low incomes to pay by direct debit and benefit from the same price deals as better off customers. (It’s method of payment more than volume that matters at the household level – volume really matters for commercial deals)… smart meters…. smart grid… and so on there are many ways to crack this problem… but I would suggest that the goal is best defined as achieving affordable energy for all not artificially cheaper energy for some, dramatically more expensive for everyone else, which is what the fuel poverty target and this Bill does…

    “what’s the point of having private members bills at all?”

    Well written ones do occasionally pass, note the Green Energy Bill in the last parliament that introduced the Merton rule as law.

    “Oh and if this Bill was all a political stunt then it was one perpetuate by… (long list of the worthy)”

    Because they are pressure groups with a particular world view that equates chucking large amounts of money at their client groups with success. The Liberal Democrats are a political party seeking to represent all British people and must then balance the competing demands of interest groups and voters with what we believe and what works.

    Part of the problem with this bill is it looks as if it was cobbled together rather hastily by those interest groups rather than in a considered manner with input from the relevant policy research teams and Treasury team.

    A better written bill, perhaps with more modest ambitions and less glaring faults, might have achieved government support and passed.

    AM:

    “But I really cannot accept as readily as you do the idea that the Labour party should be allowed to decide what is and what is not serious and debate-worthy. ”

    We would do exactly the same thing if we were the government and this was a Labour PMB demanding we commit £24bn in the current economic climate to the provision of some other worthy but unrealistic goal that would mean sabotaging one of our own programmes to pay for it. Or if we simply felt we agreed with the goal but could do it better ourselves. Note the Government already have an annual fuel poverty strategy and report.

    Further, we’re hardly on very strong grounds to moan about this on a partisan basis when it would have required only 9 of the 17 LD MPs who didn’t show (nearly a third of our party including the Leader) to make this happen.

    AS:

    “What a shame you didn’t pay closer attention to the Fuel Poverty Bill. As someone who worked on the Bill I can say with confidence that you are wrong on so many counts.”

    Great, but forgive my curiosity, could you be more specific as to where I’m wrong precisely?

  • Alix Mortimer 24th Mar '09 - 5:13pm

    “We would do exactly the same thing if we were the government”

    Maybe, and I hope the opposition would shaft us for being cynical, self-interested control freaks.

    “Further, we’re hardly on very strong grounds to moan about this on a partisan basis ”

    You are mistaken. I listed the absent Lib Dems first and I specifically referred to Clegg’s absence in the main body of the post. How much more unpartisan do you want me to be? Yes, I do want to know why they weren’t there, Lib Dems as well. That’s the point of the post.

    Of course, I also listed the attendance figures, showing the Lib Dems in a vast absolute and proportional majority, and said I would let them speak for themselves – they are facts too.

  • Complaining about the government with Nick Clegg absent does not seem to send a strong message.

    If Mr Clegg is truly hungry for power, then he should choose his actions accordingly.

    A promise means nothing until it is delivered.

    If you do not stand up for something, is it truly so important to you?

  • I am not sure how feasible this suggestion is but how about hiring a professional political strategist?

    I saw one on the tv show The West Wing, essentially a bright guy whose specific role was to think through the details of strategy and avoid the heffelump traps.

    Maybe the idea that such people exist is just fiction or such people are too expensive for the Lib Dem purse.

    Still it might be worth a thought.

    It could be a vote winner to show that the Lib Dems can really think things through and maybe things like the lack of opposition to the EP ban or the seeming lack of thought with respect to the Heath bill would not have happened.

  • Painfully Liberal 24th Mar '09 - 6:08pm

    Neil.

    1. You’re right, I didn’t notice that and I think that aspect is probably a mistake but (crucially for this issue) that’s something that can be thrashed out in committee (the next stage after the second reading.

    I’m sure you’re right about the which houses need to be fuel poverty proofed (I must confess that I’m not fluent in that sort of language) but I don’t have that much of a problem with that, one has to find some mechanism for targeting who gets the help.

    On the other points you seem to be suggesting that you think there are better ways to achieve the desired outcomes. I don’t agree but those are perfectly valid arguments. However they’re valid reasons to vote against the bill, not to conspire to prevent a vote taking place.

    Also if you’ll excuse me for saying so it’s perfectly reasonable to criticise the composition of the bill, it’s perfectly rerasonable to disagree with the methods specified to achieve the desired outcome, it’s even perfectly resonable to disagree with the objectives themselves but I think it’s a shame you felt compelled to denounce the Bill as a stunt. Such an accusation implies some fairly unpleasant connotations and is frankly beneath you.

  • AM: “Maybe, and I hope the opposition would shaft us for being cynical, self-interested control freaks.”

    They’d probably try, but I don’t think many MPs are going to find it diffcult to brush off criticism on this one.

    On the Government side they already have their own Fuel Poverty Strategy, that they introduced, updated annually, that they presumably support, and is likely to be more workable than David Heath’s alternative for all the reasons previously explained.

    On the Conservative side they’ve also got their own fuel poverty policies and can point to endorsements for it from organisations like Age Concern.

    And for both the simple repsonse “They’re criticising me for not attending a debate where their own Leader and a third of their party were absent… is there no end to their cyncial opportunism… I bet the Lib Dems in Sheffield are not writing to Nick Clegg about this… my commitment to tackling fuel poverty over the years… etc. etc.”

    …makes us look pretty sad… and that’s even before they go wading into the detail of why the Bill is wrong.

    “I think it’s a shame you felt compelled to denounce the Bill as a stunt. Such an accusation implies some fairly unpleasant connotations and is frankly beneath you.”

    Yellow card noted ref. I would note though that I find it hard to regard such a poorly drafted unworkable Private Member’s Bill as designed to do anything other than fail.

    If you really want a PMB to succeed you have to get a consensus around the contents in advance, preferably with the Government when they have a majority. Clearly where enhancing a flagship government policy is concerned it is unlikely some compromise position would not have been possible. And there was nothing about this Bill that looked consensual.

    Generally PMB’s are used to draw attention to an issue, in that regard David’s Bill is a success, I just feel it could have been more than that.

  • “It is not the business of governments to carry out “mercy killings” on legislation.”

    Government – that’s debatable. I would argue that when it is bad legislation it is exactly the business of Parliament to kill it off as rapidly as possible.

    Whether this bill is good or bad legislation I don’t know.

  • PM: “Millions of people suffer each year from the necessary energy deficit to sustain life and the resultant hardship of `Fuel Poverty’ directly leads to death.”

    Indeed, the question is whether this Bill was the best way of preventing hardship and increased risk of deaths and serious illness resultant from that.

    One technical question though, you use the figure of 20,000 for the number of deaths from Fuel Poverty. I checked this and couldn’t find a source.

    The NS produce a figure for ‘Excess winter mortality’ which last year was 25,300 but that relates to a wider range of increased risks of death in the winter months, such as epidemics, external temperature, and falls, not just internal temperature in the home

    http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=574

    The figures are not well correlated with the fuel poverty figures.

    http://www.statistics.gov.uk/hub/business-energy/energy/fuel-poverty

    So where did the 20,000 come from?

  • PM: “My information source is Consumer Focus and I suggest you validate with them but they are quoting 20,000 winter deaths from the cold and many more becoming ill.”

    I’ve looked at the Consumer Focus website and can’t find this number quoted. They do on the other hand reference the same Excess Winter Deaths number and highlight a specific concern with this winter being colder than normal. They didn’t though specifically attribute these deaths to fuel poverty.

    I would be cautious about using statistics inaccurately, even if with the best of intentions.

    It also highlights one of the problems with the general nature of the fuel poverty target. If our social goal is reducing Excess Winter Deaths, aiming at that rather than reducing fuel poverty might be more sensible and effective.

    “The angst for so many Britsh fuel poor families each winter is the strk choice between food or warmth.And forget the chance to go out for at least one night at the club,pub or with friends to enjoy a social treat.”

    I agree it’s beyond grim and unacceptable in this modern age, but surely the solution to this poverty are simple targeted benefits and putting energy efficiency schemes into the decent homes programme, not a myriad of complex, expensive, overlapping schemes.

  • Oliver Mantell 25th Mar '09 - 8:30pm

    There seems to be some faulty logic at work:
    Fuel poverty is bad
    This bill aims to reduce fuel poverty
    Therefore this bill should be supported.

    As Neil says, the question of whether it’s an appropriate, effective or necessary way to address fuel poverty needs to be addressed. From the debate it was obvious that plenty of MPs were keen to associate themselves with the cause of being ‘against fuel poverty’ (who wouldn’t?) but precisely that fact makes voting down a ‘bad bill’ on the subject problematic.

    Perhaps the expectation of knee-jerk responses about anyone who voted against the bill *regardless of its actual content* meant that the ‘mercy killing’ of the bill looked like the simplest alternative.

    And the content of the bill *was* problematic. Legally it was a nonsense (would you really send a Minister to prison for not prioritising this over all else, in a profoundly uncertain financial climate?), financially it was all over the place (there was surprising disregard for differences in estimated costs of tens of billions of pounds), practically it was undeliverable (fuel poverty depends on a variable – income – that energy companies can neither know or control, yet they had to amend individual pricing in relation to) and politically (given the contrast between the willingness to compromise on the effective details and the repeated referencing of the government’s elusive targets) it seemed to bear more relation to a mis-placed press release than a serious piece of legislation. Supporting it was not, I would suggest, necessarily particularly ‘conscionable’, merely politically convenient.

  • Alix Mortimer 25th Mar '09 - 9:53pm

    “There seems to be some faulty logic at work:
    Fuel poverty is bad
    This bill aims to reduce fuel poverty
    Therefore this bill should be supported.”

    *Sigh*

    You really need to read what I’ve actually written, in both my posts and my comments. I am concerned with the fact that the evidence suggests that the government apparently decided this bill was not allowed to proceed, but were not willing to put up the arguments against it than Neil has put forward. I want to know what those involved and affected have to say for themselves, about the topic and their part in it.

    If this thread has shown nothing else, it is that the merits of the bill are *debatable*.

  • Oliver Mantell 25th Mar '09 - 10:56pm

    Alix –

    Sorry, I should have been clearer: I didn’t mean that *you* were making that mistake, but that it seemed to be made both in the Parliamentary debate and by other commenters here.

    And yes, it would be good to hear the issues publicly discussed – although I don’t think it’s surprising (for the reasons I mentioned) that it wasn’t.

    I admit that my first reaction to your post was outrage that MPs ‘hadn’t bothered’ to stay and vote (as well as gratitude that you’d flagged it up). But on reading further, I began to question if that (or preventing the bill out of party-political spite) was really what was going on.

    From my interpretation (and yes, it’s open to debate!) the bill was flawed in all it’s most substantive points (other than the commendable desire to eliminate fuel poverty). The ‘ways and means’ you referred to was the only part that wasn’t existing government policy – unless I’ve misunderstood?. Hence I didn’t see how the ‘amends in committee stage’ that the MPs repeatedly referenced, or the furtherdebate you spoke about, could result in a workable bill that was recognisably the same bill, or a meaningful addition to the law. Perhaps I phrased it a little over-emphatically.

    [On a side note, though, isn’t passing a law to oblige a Minister to implement a policy a curious mixing of the legislative and executive functions of government?]

  • PM: “The Consumer Focus says,

    `Every year over 20,000 more people die in the winter months than in the summer months,largely due to the cold.Many more become ill as a result of living in cold or damp homes’”

    http://www.consumerfocus.org.uk/en/content/cms/campaigns/end_fuel_poverty/end_fuel_poverty.aspx

    Thank-you Patrick, note though that statement ‘dying from the cold’ is different to saying that 20,000 people a year die of fuel poverty. Pardon my pedentry.

  • I don’t have time to go through these posts line by line but a couple of quick response points.

    1) How would it be funded?
    a) Scrap ineffective VAT cut to pay for Green New Deal (which also includes transport and housing measures) See http://tinyurl.com/greenroad
    b) Make the energy companies pay, using some of their £9.5bn windfall profits from the European Emissions Trading Scheme

    2) Criminal contempt. Where did this come from? The Bill creates a duty on the Sec of State. Lots of bills create duties on ministers and other public authorities. These are not criminal law sanctions. Government failures to fulfil their legal duties can be challenged in the courts, and often are. Ministers don’t get sent to prison (or michael Howard would still be there from his time as Home Sec). Surely this would fit into the same category?

    3) Social tariffs. Hardly welfare policy! Energy companies are used to offering differential rates. This bill requires them to offer their best rates to the least well-off, rather than their worst rates which they generally offer at the moment.

    Some of the comments from campaign groups about what happened on Friday –

    Help the Aged
    “Millions of older people who have just suffered through one of the coldest winters in years will be devastated and dismayed by this result. The Government has shown a tragic lack of urgency in addressing fuel poverty. It seems unable to recognise the scale of the problem which for some older people can be a life and death issue.”
    Press statement from Mervyn Kohler, Special Adviser to Help the Aged, 20 March 2009

    Consumer Focus
    “We are dismayed that the Government has talked out a Bill to end fuel poverty. The failure of this Bill is a devastating blow for millions of the most vulnerable pensioners, families and disabled people who will be left struggling in fuel poverty. … This is a sad day for those who are facing a daily battle to afford to heat their homes.”
    Jonathan Stearn, energy expert for Consumer Focus, 20 March 2009

    Age Concern
    “This is a huge let-down for the 2.75 million older people living in fuel poverty and many will question why a Government which claims to be concerned about fuel poverty has acted in such a cynical way.”
    Gordon Lishman, Director General of Age Concern, 20 March 2009

    Further info on the bill available at http://campaigns.libdems.org.uk/warmhomes

  • Thanks Neil Berry, for trying to teach this party what serious politics is about. If we can’t learn, we deserve to fail. Simple as.

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