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Fuel Poverty

Volume 508: debated on Thursday 8 April 2010

2. When he expects figures to be available on the level of fuel poverty in the UK in 2008; and if he will make a statement. (325605)

The 2008 fuel poverty statistics report will be published on 14 October 2010. This will contain the 2008 fuel poverty numbers for England and the UK. Final figures can be produced only after analysis of the detailed housing survey results. However, to address this lag, we published projected levels of fuel poverty for 2008 and 2009 in England in the most recent annual report on fuel poverty statistics.

The Government’s own prediction, which the Minister mentioned, said that one in four homes will now be in fuel poverty. Given that domestic fuel prices have risen 80 per cent. since 2004, is it not time for a public inquiry into the discrepancy between wholesale and retail fuel prices?

The hon. Gentleman, who is my near neighbour in Staffordshire, is right that there were sustained price rises between 2004 and 2008 that have increased fuel poverty. That is a matter of concern to all hon. Members. We are adapting our policies to cope with that, not least, I hope, by obtaining the House’s final approval tonight for the Energy Bill, which will allow us to introduce social price support for the poorest households. What is not necessary is what I think the hon. Gentleman is talking about: referral of the whole energy market to the Competition Commission. This is a time when we need sustained investment in the future of our infrastructure, and that would only delay it.

As my hon. Friend knows, there are over 100 years of coal underground. Should we not look at a strategy for extracting that coal? That would make a major contribution to the eradication of fuel poverty.

I am sure it is right that a diverse energy supply will help us to keep control of energy prices, and clean fossil fuels such as coal will assist in that. That is why we are world leaders with our levy for supporting four commercial demonstration models of carbon capture and storage.

Given the customer confusion caused by more than 4,000 different tariffs, will the Minister congratulate Scottish and Southern Energy on putting its cheapest tariff information on all its energy bills—going beyond the Government’s wish of annual statements—and will he encourage other energy companies to follow suit?

In recent months I have seen good examples of energy companies trying to improve the clarity of their bill—plain English, the way the bills are set out and the information that they give. I applaud the example that the hon. Gentleman gives and encourage other energy companies to do the same. I would like to be returned to Government, in this Department, to do more on this subject after 6 May.

One of the best means of reducing fuel poverty is tough regulation of the energy marketplace. Has the Minister read with the same concern as I had the report by Consumer Focus into the performance of Ofgem in regulating npower’s price-sculpting mechanism and assure me that a future Government will take a more robust approach to the rather flaccid efforts of this regulator?

Again, I hope that later today the House will approve the Energy Bill, which contains measures to strengthen the powers of Ofgem and sharpen its act in terms of being more proactive in its support for consumers. I would love to be back in the next Parliament, taking action to ensure that Ofgem does its job properly.