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Energy Prices

Volume 541: debated on Thursday 8 March 2012

The Department of Energy and Climate Change publishes estimates of retail energy prices in our “Quarterly Energy Prices” publication. In general, in line with wholesale costs, most prices have gone up in recent years. However, domestic gas and electricity prices have recently both been cut by just over 2%, although prices will still be up by about 15% for gas and 8% for electricity compared with a year earlier.

Is the Minister aware of the Big Switch campaign to reduce the energy bills of thousands of people through collective purchasing, and does he support it?

We most certainly do. No one in the House has done more for collective purchasing than my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State. This is a trend that we are very keen to encourage, as it will help consumers dramatically by enabling them to switch effectively. It will form an important part of a functioning market.

Industries using large amounts of energy—such as Cemex, which manufactures cement in Rugby—are concerned about the relatively high energy prices here compared with other parts of the world. Will the Minister update the House on the steps being taken to ensure that the energy prices paid by British industry remain competitive?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, which is relevant to Members on both sides of the House. What the Chancellor announced before Christmas was a package of about £250 million to support energy-intensive industries. More detail is being published this week, and there is a call for evidence so that we can see exactly what support is required for which industries.

It is not just gas and electricity prices that are rising, as those off grid who use refined oil as a home fuel are having a bad time of it. Given the increasing concentration in that market, has the Minister given any thought to making direct contact with the suppliers to see whether they will identify and offer assistance to vulnerable groups within their client base?

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. The Office of Fair Trading looked into this market last year. It was evident in the previous winter that the system had not worked as well as it should have done. We are seeing increasing centralisation of ownership. The OFT has said that it is willing to look again at examples of market failure, and it has asked Members of Parliament to submit evidence to it of where that might be happening.