PMQs: Nick tackles Gordon on fuel poverty

by Stephen Tall on June 18, 2008

At this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg quizzed Gordon Brown on how he was going to help the millions of families and pensioners set to fall into fuel poverty this year because of rising fuel prices. For the Tories, David Cameron went on about the Lisbon treaty. As usual, it was a no score draw, unless you’re partisan. (And, for the record, I thought this was another strong showing from Nick, who is consistently and doggedly questioning the Prime Minister on bread and butter issues: which is what PMQs should be about).

Anyway you can judge for yourselves below, via YouTube and Hansard:

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I add my expressions of sympathy and condolence to the friends and family of Private Jeff Doherty, Lance Corporal James Bateman and, of course, the four soldiers who tragically lost their lives in Helmand yesterday.
The Government have handed over a £9 billion windfall profit to the energy companies through the emissions trading scheme. How can the Prime Minister reconcile that huge subsidy with the fact that 5.5 million British families, and 750,000 more British pensioners, are set to plunge into fuel poverty? How can it be fair to subsidise large energy companies when ordinary families cannot pay their fuel bills?

The Prime Minister:
I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s figures. We have increased the winter fuel payment; it is now £250 for all families in which someone is over 60 and £300—indeed, it is rising by £100 this year—for people over 80. We are determined to help elderly people to pay their fuel bills. We have also negotiated an agreement with the utilities under which, first, £100 million a year, and then £150 million a year, will be provided to help low-income families. We are determined to do everything that we can to reduce fuel poverty in this country. I do not accept that we have not acted. We are in a very difficult situation in which oil prices have trebled, and we are determined to do everything that we can to help the vulnerable families of this country.

Mr. Clegg: Those measures are tinkering at the edges. People are struggling to get by now. I am not sure whether the Prime Minister understands the pressures that families are under. They face a massive 40 per cent. hike in the price of gas, and the poorest customers are still paying the highest prices. If the Spanish Government were able to claw back more than €1 billion of their subsidy, why cannot the Prime Minister do the same? Will he compel British energy companies to use more of their £9 billion windfall to install smart meters and to insulate more homes, and force them to offer their best prices to their poorest customers?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman forgets that we are taking action to insulate people’s homes. We have the biggest insulation programme in history to help people who need draught-proofing and insulation for their homes. He must acknowledge when things have been done. He talks about the Spanish Government, but we have done more than the Spanish Government. We have negotiated an agreement worth £150 million a year for many years ahead. At the same time, we have increased winter allowances for pensioners. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that both he and the Conservatives opposed the winter allowances when they were introduced.

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I always worry about how our leaders will manage in the bear pit of question time. Vince managed well, because as a caretaker it was in no ones particular interest to shoot him down. Nick looked tentative at first, but is improving rapidly and landing punches by raising important issues and asking intelligent questions. The closer the election the more strident Cameron’s backbenchers will force him to become and I think Nick’s presence and relative gravitas will be increasingly appreciated. He was excellent today, but I don’t think it’s a one off. I think he is improving week by week.

by Martin Land on June 18, 2008 at 8:18 pm. Reply #

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