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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is it not a fact that many elderly people who suffer from hypothermia become ill not because they cannot afford adequate heating but because they feel they cannot, or they are worried about running out of money? When I served on the London Electricity Board, a scheme was put in place whereby we ensured that, for vulnerable people, one room was always kept warm, in whatever type of dwelling. Are similar schemes still available?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the New HEES provides full heating, insulation and ventilation systems for vulnerable families, in particular pensioner families. It is quite true that a psychological element can play a part in this problem. However, the wide availability of such schemes helps to reassure older people that they can apply for assistance. We believe that at least half a million people could be taken out of fuel poverty by these means.
Lord Ezra: My Lords, while recognising the considerable efforts made by the Government to identify and deal with the problem of fuel poverty, I ask the Government whether they accept the recommendation made in the latest report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. It states that there is a,
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I can confirm that the Government recognise the need to tackle fuel efficiency in housing generally, because it forms a part of the climate change programme being examined by the Royal Commission. We also feel that a part of that priority should be to address first the problems faced by those who are most vulnerable to fuel poverty. Such cases form our highest priority. The programmes to which I referred earlier aim to tackle the priority areas first and will make a significant contribution both to the social need and the environmental issues here.
Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the high fuel tax on petrol is causing considerable hardship--verging on poverty--for people living in rural areas? Have the Government any intention to reduce the fuel tax, in view of the promise given by the Government that taxes would not be raised in this Parliament?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord has mis-stated the taxation policy of this Government. We gave a clear commitment in relation to income tax. We also gave a commitment to ensure that our taxation system would be environmentally sensitive. The taxation structure put in place in relation to fuels aims to meet that objective. We have built on the fuel duty escalator put in place by the previous government. But when it began to bear too heavily on road users, the Chancellor in his Budget ended it. However, since that was done, international oil prices have risen sharply. The proportion of tax as an element of the price of fuel is in fact slightly lower than it was when the Government first came to power. Furthermore, up to that point, the real cost of motoring had not risen significantly for a period of 20 years. For those reasons, we do not regard this as an area for immediate government action, although we shall continue to bear in mind the implications as regards rural policies.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, in preparation for drawing up the strategy, which we hope to issue in the autumn, the inter-ministerial group has carefully considered the definition. However, I should point out to my noble friend that the definitions will apply to England. The commonly applied definition of a fuel-poor household is of one which needs to spend 10 per cent or more of its total income on fuel. However, queries have been raised as regards whether fuel for non-heating purposes should be excluded and whether some allowance should be made for housing costs when
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, we are concerned about Cameroon's human rights record and are keen to ensure that the provisions for human rights laid down in the Harare Declaration are respected by the Cameroonian Government with equal consideration for all Cameroonians. We have raised Cameroon's human rights record with other Commonwealth governments and with the government of Cameroon.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I thank the Minister most warmly for the constructive tone of that reply. However, is she aware that the difficulties suffered by the rather substantial English-speaking minority in Cameroon have now lasted for many years? Attention has been drawn continuously to those issues by the human rights committees of the United Nations. Is the Minister further aware that this country has a considerable moral obligation in this regard? We were the trusteeship power for the southern Cameroonians under the treaty of the League of Nations and later under the United Nations. We were also principally responsible for the arrangements under which the southern Cameroonians joined the Republic of Cameroon. Therefore, using the machinery of the Commonwealth, can the Government ensure that they increase their efforts, bearing in mind that grave reservations were expressed when the Republic of Cameroon was accepted into the Commonwealth, thus acknowledging its obligations under the Harare Declaration?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am aware of the matters raised by the noble Lord. It is right to say that acute concerns have been expressed about how the Anglophone Cameroonians are being treated. It is a matter that has rightly been highlighted by Her Majesty's Government. We have held discussions with
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, can the Minister give the House details of any other countries that come under the human rights provisions of the Harare Declaration where the Government are not satisfied that the provisions are being properly observed?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the noble Baroness will know that in the past we have had certain difficulties with the record of a number of countries that have signed the Harare Declaration. It would be invidious to name them, because many of those countries have now resolved their problems. However, I can tell the noble Baroness that the Harare principles are still considered to be extremely important. Her Majesty's Government will ensure that they highlight every occasion on which they feel that those principles are not being adhered to appropriately.
Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, I fully share the concerns expressed about human rights in Cameroon. Nevertheless, does the Minister agree that it is a considerable compliment to the Commonwealth that Francophone Cameroon and Lusophone Mozambique have both joined? Can the Minister say anything about other applicants, such as Yemen or the Palestine Liberation Organisation?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I cannot comment specifically on the noble Lord's final point. I agree that it is a very great compliment that a Francophone country such as Cameroon has chosen to join the Commonwealth. Joining the Commonwealth is of great benefit. We are able to intensify the discussions that we have with such countries. We are also able to help them in a material way. At a meeting on 2nd May, CMAG agreed to send a secretariat mission to examine human rights issues in Cameroon, and it has recently agreed to accept such a commission. Those are the kinds of issue that we are able to discuss with member countries.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I am glad to hear that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group is sending a mission to Cameroon. In addition to the matters raised by my noble friend, will the Government take into consideration the recent report by the UN rapporteur on torture, Sir Nigel Rodley, which highlighted extra-judicial executions, particularly in the north, unfair trials before military tribunals, and the persecution and harassment of journalists and human rights defenders?
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