Fuel poverty bill fails in Commons

An attempt to force the government to accelerate its efforts against fuel poverty fell just 11 votes short in the Commons today.

David Heath, the Liberal Democrats’ shadow leader of the House, needed 100 MPs to provide the quorum needed to get his bill out of second reading and into committee.

But after four hours of debate he fell 11 short, with 89 voting for the bill and two against.

Help the Aged’s special adviser Mervyn Kohler has already admitted his disappointment.

“Millions of older people who have just suffered through one of the coldest winters in years will be devastated and dismayed by this result,” he said.

“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.

“There is no conceivable way government will meet its legal target to end fuel poverty by 2016 unless ministers start to make changes to a fuel poverty strategy that has already failed.”

Around five million households are believed to have suffered fuel poverty this winter – meaning they will spend over ten per cent of their income on energy bills.

Mr Heath’s proposed legislation would have brought about a major energy efficiency programme raising all homes up to levels enjoyed by modern properties.

It would also have set a social tariff to limit vulnerable households’ exposure to high energy bills.

Mr Heath told politics.co.uk the bill came “at exactly the right time”.

Listen to David Heath explain why his bill deserved to become law:

“It touches on social justice, on poverty, on health, on the environment and indeed on the economy because it makes work for people in the construction industry which is so widely needed,” he said yesterday.

“We are practically the only country in Europe where people die in their homes of the cold each year. I think that’s an affront to our civilised values. I think we should see it as a priority.”

An early day motion backing the bill attracted the signatures of 171 MPs.

But not enough stayed in Westminster long enough before heading home for the weekend to give it their backing.

Among the organisations backing Mr Heath’s bill are Friends of the Earth and Help the Aged, who last year unsuccessfully sought a judicial review against the government on fuel poverty.

They argued the government had a statutory duty under the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 to eradicate fuel poverty by 2010. The application was rejected because the judge ruled the government was not obliged to achieve its object “whatever the cost”.