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Labour deserts the old and cold

March 27, 2009 10:20 AM
By Charles West

The Government are failing to meet their own targets to eradicate Fuel Poverty. Last week the Liberal Democrats took up the cause in a Private Members bill. Labour blocked its progress.
Dr Charles West, local Liberal Democrat campaigner said, ""Millions of pensioners suffer in the cold because they cannot afford their fuel bills, and tens of thousands die in cold weather. The Government have walked away from their commitment to put an end to fuel poverty. We only needed 11 more MPs to push this bill forward. It is a pity that Shrewsbury's MP was not there to support it.""

In 2000 Parliament passed the Warm Homes Act - a Private Member's Bill that enjoyed the wholehearted support of the Lib Dem Parliamentary Party. The Bill gave Government a duty to eradicate all fuel poverty in England by 2016 and for vulnerable groups by 2010. Until last October, everyone believed that this was an absolute duty, but on October 17 a High Court judgment ruled that the duty was in effect discretionary, not absolute.
The Fuel Poverty (Eradication) Bill would reinstate the duty to end fuel poverty. Without it, the Government will probably jump at the chance to abandon their various fuel poverty policies. In their recent fuel poverty progress report, they themselves admitted that they were not going to hit their 2010 target - and they have been repeatedly censured by their own Fuel Poverty Advisory Group for their failure to take sufficient action.
A recent survey by Help the Aged revealed that 4.5 million pensioners plan to live in one room this winter because they can't afford to pay their fuel bills. Without this Bill, this problem will get worse and worse.
The Bill is supported by a range of concerned organisations, including Help the Aged, Consumer Focus, the Association for the Conservation of Energy and Friends of the Earth.
On Friday 20th March the Bill had its second reading.
The Fuel Poverty Bill was up for its Second Reading on Friday 20th March. The government opposed the Bill, and were able to 'talk it out' using their allotted speaking slot at the end of the debate. David Heath attempted to stop the Minister from being able to filibuster the Bill by using a 'closure motion' to bring debate to an early conclusion. However the closure motion required 100 MPs to support it and only 89 MPs were present to support the Bill.
Just one in ten Conservative MPs and one in fourteen Labour MPs were in Parliament to support the Bill. Nearly three quarters of Liberal Democrats were present but it was not enough to stop the Government blocking the Bill.
Throughout the debate, and in previous discussions with Ministers, David made it clear that the Bill could be amended at committee and with the support of other benches he had hoped to reach a consensus.
The Bill could receive further consideration on the 12th of June,
What they are saying
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
The Times
"Devastating blow" for households in fuel poverty (headline)
"The Fuel Poverty Bill has been thrown out of parliament because not enough MPs could be bothered to vote."
The Times, 20 March 2009