Beckenham MP Jacqui Lait introduced a Bill in the Commons yesterday. It seeks to "prevent the exploitation by parents of their children by means of seeking publicity, primarily for the purpose of financial gain, in respect of the actions of such children; and for connected purposes".
The Bill was presented by Mrs Lait, Charles Hendry, Mr. Nigel Waterson, Mr. Iain Duncan Smith, Mrs. Maria Miller and Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister for Children). It will be read a second time on 26 June.
Mrs Lait said:
"It would be a rare adult who was not appalled to discover that a mother could plot with other members of her extended family to kidnap her daughter for financial gain, and I, for one, was relieved that the plot was discovered and the mother and her accomplice jailed. Not much later, the story broke of the alleged 13-year-old father, and we had to endure the spectacle of him, the baby, the mother and other claimants to fatherhood all over the world’s media.
I ought to declare an interest as my husband is leader of East Sussex county council, which was involved in that case. Senior officers in the council have done much devilling work for me and I am grateful to them for their help and advice, as I am to the Clerks and the Library of the House. I am also grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) and for Wealden (Charles Hendry), among others, for sponsoring the Bill, and I hope they do not think I am treading on their toes. I regard this as potentially a nationwide issue.
I also alerted the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Malik) to the fact that I was planning this Bill. I quite understand that, as a Minister in the Ministry of Justice, he cannot be involved, but I hope he hears my argument and acts on it. I am also hugely grateful to the Centre for Social Justice for its analytical work, which has opened up the whole debate on the impact of family breakdown on society
Those two cases had in common the misguided desire of a self-interested adult member of a dysfunctional family to profit by exposing their child to a media storm. I shall not refer any more to the details of those cases as those involved have had the protection of the law to regain their anonymity. What alarmed me about them was the damage that would inevitably be caused to the youngsters who were exposed to the full glare of publicity.
Mr Hendry expressed profound concern about the issue:
"This is without doubt an extraordinarily important issue. As the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) has just said, the passion it generates is equally strong among Members in all parts of the House; Members in all parties are extremely concerned about fuel poverty and serious in their efforts to combat it. Rather than in any way denying that there is an issue to address, we are all looking for the best way to do so.
I greatly welcome the constructive approach taken by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome. We welcome his willingness to say that we should look to achieve a band C level of energy efficiency rather than a band B level if that would make it easier for the Government to accept the Bill. We also welcome the Bill’s broad nature. It is extremely important that it addresses issues of microgeneration and does not just deal with energy efficiency and energy conservation. It is crucial for us, as a nation, to start to address all those issues with greater clarity and determination.
We all broadly welcome the Bill’s objectives, and I think we can also all agree that fuel poverty has generally been getting worse over recent years and that home energy efficiency in this country is nothing like good enough.
We are not on track to have secure energy supplies, low-carbon energy generation or affordable energy, and those three requirements matter very much to this House and to the country outside. The thinking behind this Bill is an attempt to address a couple of those particular challenges. The Government’s fuel poverty strategy has called for the eradication of fuel poverty in vulnerable households by 2010, and in all households by 2016 in England and a little later in Scotland. In an intervention, the Minister said that she was concerned that the Bill advanced an “absolutist position”, yet the Government’s target was to abolish all fuel poverty by 22 November 2016. One cannot get much more absolutist than that, although I know that she has not specified whether it is intended that that will happen before lunch or after lunch on that date.
The Government’s figures on fuel poverty only go as far as 2006, and they show that 3.5 million households were in fuel poverty then, compared to 1.8 million in 2005. The estimate is that 5.5 million households, or 9 million people, are now in fuel poverty. There are some 23,000 excess winter deaths, as they are unattractively called, each year as a result of fuel poverty, and the situation is becoming ever more challenging. The annual dual fuel bill is now £1,100, up from £572 in 2003. Every 1 per cent. increase in fuel bills pushes another 40,000 people into fuel poverty. We are all genuinely concerned that the reductions in people’s domestic energy bills have not happened anything like as quickly as the increases that we saw a while ago.
There are still some hardy Conservative critics of conventional climate change wisdom in the House of Commons. On Wednesday Mr Lilley introduced a debate on the Stern Review in Westminster Hall. (Lord Stern's main conclusion was that one per cent of global GDP per year is needed to combat climate change. He has since revised that upwards to two per cent.)
The debate makes for a fascinating read. Many of us feel hopelessly confused about the whole issue of climate change. A good speech from an able politician - replete with evidence and articulated clearly - really can help advance one's understanding of a subject. Many of us moan about soundbite politics and inane remarks from MPs. It is striking wading through Hansard to see just how often they make excellent, detailed and substantive speeches.
That preamble serves in part as an explanation for covering the debate's highlights at some length.
Mr Lilley cast doubt on the standards of the Stern Review:
"In his review, Professor Stern makes much of the importance of the peer review process, but his report was not subjected to peer review, and it is time that it was, or at least to a common or garden review in the House."
He later added:
"The simple fact is that since the beginning of this century, the average global temperature has flatlined; indeed, over the past 18 months it has fallen back and, according to the satellite measurements of temperature, it is now basically back at the level it was in 1979, when such measurements started to be taken. Professor Stern ignores that and, throughout his report, refers to continual global warming. However, global warming has not continued. Even Adair Turner, who on all other topics is a model of objectivity, ignores recent developments when discussing climate change, in the section of his letter to the Treasury summarising recent developments. The facts show that the world has not been heating over the past decade. The response is, “So much the worse for the facts.” While we were passing the Climate Change Bill, based on the assumption that the world was becoming hotter, I mentioned in a point of order that it was snowing outside in October for the first time in 70 years. I was told that I should realise that exceptional cold was a consequence of global warming—so much the worse for the facts.
The recent period of global cooling does not itself disprove the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is a scientific fact. Other things being equal, an increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will raise the temperature. However, the recent period of cooling does suggest that either manmade global warming may be smaller or that the impact of other factors may be greater than climate models have so far assumed. In those circumstances, the climate models should be adjusted; the facts should not be ignored."
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