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Fuel Costs

Volume 533: debated on Thursday 20 October 2011

The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State chaired a summit with consumer groups on Monday to launch the “check, switch, insulate to save” campaign and a package of measures to help consumers this winter. We are working with consumer groups, energy suppliers and the regulator Ofgem to ensure that consumers know how to save money on their energy bills by checking on their energy deal, switching their supplier if appropriate and insulating their homes.

I do not know whether the Minister has had a chance to read a recent book entitled “Let Them Eat Carbon”, by Matthew Sinclair of the TaxPayers Alliance, but if he has he will have noted Citigroup’s estimate that this country will have to spend more on meeting environmental targets than Germany, France, Spain and Italy put together. Does he accept that when those costs are passed on they will result in even higher energy bills for consumers?

I have serious doubts about the information in that book about the relative costs, particularly compared with countries such as Germany. We have to deal with a legacy of a failure of investment over the past 13 years. Every year of this decade, we will have to secure investment in our energy infrastructure at twice the rate secured in the previous decade, which will entail a cost to consumers, who are picking up the tab for Labour’s failures.

May I remind the Minister that a leading expert on energy said only this week in the precincts of the House that the real reason for the astronomical energy price rises was the privatisation of the energy industry and the sweating of assets over many years? Is that not the truth? Is that not why we have rocketing energy costs and our European neighbours do not?

The hon. Gentleman makes some of the points that I was just making. The sweating of assets to which he referred resulted from the lack of investment over the past 13 years in the building of new plants. It is 15 years since the last nuclear plant was opened, 25 years since it was commissioned and 40 years since the last coal plant was opened. We have not seen enough investment in plant, and that is a legacy issue that is now being addressed. As a result of competition, we ended up with some of the cheapest electricity and gas prices in the whole of Europe, but we have to make up for that legacy of failure.

I want to return to consumers and their costs. Will the Minister urge Ofgem to reconsider the unit as a specification? What does “a unit” mean? Could we not look at cost per bulb hour, and other things that consumers understand? That will drive behaviour change as well.

Let me say in response to your comment, Mr Speaker, that I like to see myself as a source of endless renewable energy. As for the point that my hon. Friend has rightly made, clarity is indeed a real issue. People are confused because they simply do not know what the term “unit” might refer to. I hope that Ofgem and the industry will try to establish what more can be done to ensure that it is absolutely clear how much energy people are using.