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Energy Bills

Volume 563: debated on Thursday 6 June 2013

This coalition Government are determined to help hard-working families with the cost of living. We have a range of initiatives to help with energy bills. From the Prime Minister’s proposals to get consumers on to the cheapest energy tariffs to our flagship green deal, and from the warm home discount to our promotion of collective switching and building a more competitive energy market, this Government are putting the consumer first.

The Minister must be aware that the respected think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research has produced a report that shows that if the energy market were more competitive, bills could be reduced by at least £70 from efficiency savings alone, so why will he not get behind Labour’s plans to break the dominance of the big six by ensuring that they supply energy into a pool to enable more businesses to access the market and to bring down bills for customers?

The hon. Gentleman will forgive us if we do not take lessons on how to widen the big six from the party that created the big six. When Labour came to office there were 14 major participants in the energy sector; when they left office, the number had shrunk to six. We believe our radical energy market reforms that are going through the House are the way to bring in real competition.

Does the Minister agree that making bills simpler and easier to understand is a big step towards empowering consumers to allow them to make the best choices and get the best deals?

Absolutely. My hon. Friend is, as ever, spot on. We have been working very closely with Ofgem to ensure that consumers are not baffled by the information on their bills and that they can make informed choices. Our market reforms will make it even easier for them to get the best deal.

12. This House was told that the green deal would be the biggest home improvement scheme since the second world war, creating thousands of jobs and hundreds of new businesses. If that were true, why does Enact Energy, which has been in the insulation business for 20 years, cite late payments from the green deal as having put it into administration, resulting in the laying off of all its staff? (158087)

Obviously, we are very sorry when any business goes into administration, but I think the hon. Gentleman is being a little hasty. It is very early days for the green deal and for one business that, sadly, has gone into receivership there are dozens, if not hundreds, of new small and medium-sized enterprises that are starting up to come into the new competitive marketplace that we are creating.

What steps are being taken to stop profiteering by the National Grid, which can charge a fortune to move or change a domestic meter?

If my hon. Friend has real evidence of profiteering, we would love to see it. If he shares it with us, we will take steps to crack down on it.

Does the Minister agree that smart metering gives the consumer—the householder—real information on how much energy they are using? How quickly can we get smart metering into every home in Britain, hopefully along with a carbon monoxide detector that will save people’s lives?[Official Report, 12 June 2013, Vol. 564, c. 1MC.]

First, on carbon monoxide detectors, the hon. Gentleman is the champion in this House of that very important technology and I thank him for his engagement with my Department. We are working closely to ensure that the green deal will push through the roll-out of carbon monoxide detectors.

On smart meters, we now have what we believe to be the most ambitious programme in Europe, beginning in earnest in 2014 and completing by 2019. It is very exciting and very radical.

On 12 occasions the Prime Minister has promised to force the energy companies by law to put everyone on to the cheapest tariff, but clause 121 of the Energy Bill clearly states that the power to require an energy company to change a customer’s tariff applies only to people on closed tariffs. There are 25.5 million households in Britain. How many are on closed tariffs?

I cannot give the right hon. Lady the exact figure off the top of my head, so I will write to her on that. The Labour party is in complete denial. The Prime Minister pledged radical action to put everyone on to the cheapest tariffs for them. We have come forward with a solution and we have put it into law; the Opposition had 13 years to do that and did nothing for consumers. We are taking radical action to cut through the swathe of tariffs that they left consumers when they left office.

I have tabled written questions, I have asked Ofgem and now I have asked the Minister, and nobody can tell me how many people will find themselves on a better deal, let alone save money.

Let us look at another promise. On Tuesday, the Secretary of State told the House that the Energy Bill would give Ofgem the power to force energy companies to compensate consumers, something I called for in October 2011. Ofgem is undertaking 15 formal investigations with another 12 cases at informal review stage. Will the Minister confirm that even after the Energy Bill has received Royal Assent and even if there is evidence of wrongdoing in any of those cases, Ofgem will have no powers to force the companies to pay a single penny in compensation to their customers?

It is a big pity that the right hon. Lady first started taking an interest in these matters in 2011 and not during the 13 years for which Labour was in government when it did nothing to address those issues for the consumer. I am happy to say that our Energy Bill takes those issues into account and Ofgem will be able to take them into account as the investigations go through. This Government are putting the consumer first after 13 years of inaction from Labour.