MP furious as energy bill blocked

PUBLISHED: 11:57 23 March 2009 | UPDATED: 13:26 03 July 2010

A Norfolk MP last night slammed a move by ministers which blocked an attempt to help thousands of the region's pensioners forced to choose between heating and eating.

A Norfolk MP last night slammed a move by ministers which blocked an attempt to help thousands of the region's pensioners forced to choose between heating and eating.

The Fuel Poverty Bill - spearheaded by Lib Dem MP David Heath and backed by Labour and Conservative backbenchers - ran out of time following a four hour debate in parliament, meaning it cannot progress any further.

The bill hoped to place an “absolute duty” on the government to eliminate fuel poverty by 2016 as well as bringing about a major energy efficiency programme and forcing energy suppliers to offer cut-price tariffs to poorer people.

An estimated 5m households in the UK are thought to be in fuel poverty - meaning more than 10pc of their income is spent on heating and lighting.

The problem hits the elderly, who are struggling to survive on a fixed income, and those living in rural areas without access to gas supplies, hardest - meaning many communities in Norfolk are greatly affected.

Last night north Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who attended the Commons debate, said he was furious that something which would have benefitted thousands of people in his constituency had been talked out.

He said: “I am very angry about what's happened today. A good bill that could have made a really difference has fallen, not due to its merits, but due to it being blocked.”

The Association for the Conservation of Energy believes one in four pensioners is staying in bed to keep warm while one in 10 has to make a choice between food and fuel.

Mr Lamb said that meant in his constituency of north Norfolk, which has one of the highest percentages of pensioners in the country, there could be more than 3,000 elderly people having to decide whether they should eat or turn the heating on.

The private members' bill was debated in the Commons on Friday and Mr Heath had until 2.30pm to secure the support of 100 MPs to allow it to go on to the next stage.

Junior energy minister Joan Ruddock spoke in opposition to the bill saying the government already had a policy to tackle the problem and placing an “absolute duty” on ministers was unacceptable.

She was still speaking when time ran out and the vote to enable the bill to progress was 11 people short.

The bill was backed by organisations including Help the Aged, Friends of the Earth and Consumer Focus.

Jonathan Stearn, energy expert for Consumer Focus, said: “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.”

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