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Global Gas Prices

Volume 703: debated on Tuesday 16 November 2021

8. What steps he is taking to help protect (a) business and (b) consumers from rising wholesale gas prices. (904244)

The Government’s energy price cap will ensure that millions of households are protected from an instant wave of bill increases this winter. We also have well-established schemes in place for those businesses that are most exposed to energy prices.

Apologies, Mr Speaker—some of us are very slow learners.

With global energy markets in a state of flux, Tiverton and Honiton constituents, particularly elderly and vulnerable residents, are concerned about the sharp increases in household bills. With Christmas just around the corner, will my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government will do all they can to stabilise the UK energy sector and ensure that those who experience fuel insecurity have the support they need this winter? Many rural households are off grid, so oil and electricity prices are also of great concern.

I assure my hon. Friend that protecting consumers is our No. 1 priority. The Secretary of State and I engage with Ofgem very often and with energy suppliers constantly, to monitor the health of the energy market. The Government’s warm homes discount, winter fuel payment and cold weather payment schemes will support low-income and vulnerable households throughout the winter.

Nothing that the Minister has said today will provide immediate relief to enough of the people who are struggling throughout the country. I have had constituents tell me that they are sitting in the cold to try to save money, yet the Government rejected Labour’s call to cut VAT on energy bills. Such a cut would have provided immediate relief to people in my constituency. What on earth does the Minister expect my constituents to do as they face a long, difficult and cold winter, with rising prices and rising energy prices in particular?

Of course, I share the hon. Lady’s concern for vulnerable people who face potential rises in energy prices. She will know that VAT is a matter for the Treasury but, of course, a VAT cut would be very untargeted towards vulnerable people. That is why we have schemes in place, such as the warm home discount, winter fuel payments and cold weather payments, to help vulnerable and elderly people. The Government have got the policy right.

On energy security, UK natural gas production has come down from around two thirds of UK demand in 2015 to less than half in the first quarter of this year—with, by the way, around 25% coming ashore at St Fergus in my constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that although we see a welcome increase in UK renewable capacity, it is far preferable, while a reducing demand for gas still exists, to source that gas domestically rather than to depend on foreign imports?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we will always prefer British gas production to foreign imports. Some 50% of the gas we currently consume comes from the UK continental shelf, with an additional 30% from Norway. My hon. Friend is right to mention the transition; I know how much he fights for his constituency’s huge extent and variety of energy producers. Earlier this year, we were delighted to agree the North sea sector transition deal, which will offer a fantastic future for my hon. Friend’s constituents and those right across north-east Scotland.

I think the technically correct answer to the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) is (a) none and (b) none.

The Secretary of State claimed that he was in talks with the Treasury about assistance for energy-intensive industries a month ago; it turns out that he was not, and nothing has happened since. Meanwhile, wholesale gas prices remain at around 200p per therm, compared with 39p per therm a year ago. Industry is suffering grievously and 40% of energy companies have now gone bust, leaving more than 2 million customers without a supplier and forced to take on new suppliers, often at great cost to their bills. Even with the price cap, bills are likely to rise by a further £200 in the spring. This is a train wreck, so what is the Minister doing now to rescue passengers from the carriages and put the rolling stock back on the lines? Or will he just continue to act the part of a disinterested bystander?

That allegation is rather unfair. We are engaging continuously with the Treasury on these matters. We have already put in place £2 billion of funds to help with the cost of electricity and to protect jobs. We have the £350 million Industrial Energy Transformation Fund, and the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), meets regularly—and has done so very recently—with the Energy Intensive Users Group.