The Secretary of State was asked—
Energy Price Guarantee: Impact on Households
Future energy prices remain highly uncertain and are expected to remain elevated throughout next year. The energy price guarantee from April ’23 is currently expected to equate to £500 of support for households in 2023-24.
As I hope the Secretary of State will know, recent analysis published by The Herald has shown that the typical dual fuel bill for people in Scotland will be £3,300—£800 more than the current £2,500 price cap. Given the Chancellor’s plans to increase the price cap further, what levels does the Secretary of State expect average energy bills to reach in Scotland next year?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, a comprehensive range of different support is in place, including the energy price guarantee, which on average looks to guarantee £2,500. It is not specific to each household, of course, and it depends on how much energy is actually used—it is a cap—but there is additional help including the £400 non-repayable support through the energy bills support scheme.
The support to which the Secretary of State refers offers scant consolation to those suffering, particularly the near-130,000 households in Scotland who rely on heating oil. The £200 of support from the UK Government covers less than half the price of the typical minimum order of heating oil, so will he finally commit to increasing the support available to these households?
Of course, everybody has had a £400 discount from their bill that is not repayable, and 8 million families also have additional support—those on income support and the like. The hon. Gentleman mentions the £200; we only just doubled that from £100 in the autumn statement the week before last.
Rising bills terrify most households. The End Fuel Poverty Coalition recently warned that
“predictions of ‘a humanitarian crisis’ for children stuck in cold homes are now a very real possibility”,
so does the Secretary of State accept that failure to provide additional support for vulnerable families in April will have dire consequences?
I just mentioned support for 8 million families that goes beyond just the £400 and the energy price guarantee. Those 8 million families will benefit from all manner of additional support—£1 billion for local authorities, additional money for people on various forms of universal credit, and money for pensioners—all of which is designed to help people through a crisis that the whole House should recognise has been brought on by Putin the dictator invading Ukraine.
Contrary to what the Secretary of State says, the consequences will be dire. The Institute of Health Equity indicates that the development of millions of children will be damaged, so will he commit to providing adequate support for vulnerable families so that no child suffers the diverse health impacts of fuel poverty this winter?
I have mentioned the 8 million homes, but perhaps it will help the hon. Lady if I point out the specific means-tested benefits which mean that those families will receive an extra payment of £650 on top of all the other assistance and help that I have outlined. This is an unprecedented situation. We have put billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into supporting people. I hope the whole House will recognise that this Government have done everything within our power to assist.
The reality is that it is a damning indictment of decades of failed UK Government energy policy that we are even discussing harm to children as a result of rising energy Bills, given the vast energy resources at Scotland’s fingertips. Given that context, does the Secretary of State agree that it is absurd that nearly 1 million households in Scotland will be experiencing fuel poverty?
I have mentioned the household support fund, which is also available for the most vulnerable. I do just have to say, to this line of questioning, that it is extraordinary that while this Government are spending so much energy and money trying to support consumers, we still have the SNP refusing to allow new renewables such as nuclear power.
When will there be clarity for park home owners about exactly what they have to do to get what they have still to receive?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out the plight of park home owners, who are in a different position from others because of the lack of connection, sometimes, to the grid. We are working very hard to ensure that they get their payments as well, which will happen this winter. My right hon. Friend can be reassured that we are doing that, and currently working through local authorities to deliver it.
Mr Speaker, I know you are a huge fan of making sure your pottery comes from the Potteries. Ceramic manufacturers, despite the energy price cap guarantee—it has been hugely helpful, with one manufacturer saying it will save it £4 million over the winter months—are still left in a dire situation. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me, the other Members of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent and Rob Flello, the chief executive of the British Ceramic Confederation, to discuss what further support can be given to this vital industry?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the pressure those manufacturers are under, and I absolutely recognise that. There is the energy-intensive industries discount of 85%, but I would certainly be very happy to meet him and colleagues to discuss the matter further.
I call the SNP spokesperson.
To summarise, what we know is that, in Scotland, average household energy bills will exceed the energy price guarantee, but the Secretary of State is unwilling or unable to tell us by quite how much. Of course, we know that on top of that households in Scotland, and indeed children in Scotland, are going to suffer as a result, yet we see no new announcements of additional financial support forthcoming. All the while, Scotland produces its own energy far in excess of what would be required to meet its own demands. Can I therefore ask the Secretary of State whether it is little wonder that viewers watching this at this moment in time would be thinking that Westminster is failing Scotland?
I absolutely do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I have already talked about the £400 that everybody has been able to receive back, with some additional measures coming through for people with unusual connection positions. We have the £650 cost of living payments for those on benefits, £300 for pensioners and £150 for disability costs of living. From what I can work out, the SNP does not like its oil and gas industry and does not want new nuclear power, so I have no idea what its plan actually is.
It is a remarkable state of affairs that a nation that produces more energy than it requires faces child fuel poverty as a result of the actions of this Government here. The Secretary of State does not like those facts, but here are some more for him. To alleviate this crisis in the medium to long term, what we need from this UK Government is not investment in nuclear, but investment in clean, sustainable renewable industries. In that regard, can I welcome his U-turn on onshore wind, but also seek clarity about whether he will provide the same tax incentives for the renewables sector as he will for the fossil fuel industry?
This Government have a very proud record when it comes to renewables. When we came to power, barely 10% was from renewables; now the figure is 42%. In fact, on one day the week before last over half of this country’s energy was produced from offshore wind alone. The SNP does not like the answers I am giving because the amounts of money we are spending supporting people, including Scots, with energy bills this year means that, for example, the average single parent on means-tested benefit will be £1,050 better off because of the energy bills support scheme. Yes, we are doing our part, and perhaps it is time the SNP looked at its own policy to make sure it is encouraging energy production.
I visited the site yesterday and was delighted to confirm the nearly £700 million investment in Sizewell C pledged in the autumn statement.
There are clearly significant national benefits to Sizewell C in terms of national security, but as a Suffolk MP I am particularly interested in potential jobs creation. I understand that about 10,000 new jobs could be created. I previously worked closely with EDF and Suffolk New College to see how we can ensure that as many local people—and my constituents in Ipswich—benefit from Sizewell C as possible. Will the Secretary of State, in his own time—when he has a little availability—meet me, the principal of Suffolk New College, other education sector leaders and EDF to see how Ipswich people can benefit in a real, tangible way from Sizewell C?
My hon. Friend will be interested and happy to learn that I met two apprentices at Sizewell yesterday, who have two of what we expect to be 1,500 new apprentice jobs. He is right to mention 10,000 jobs in the immediate area—perhaps there will be 20,000 across the country—and we expect more than 70% of investment in the project to come to the UK. I will gladly meet him and his colleagues to discuss that further.
Cumbria’s energy coast, including nuclear, wind, wave and tidal, also has the capacity to create thousands of jobs in our county. When will the Secretary of State make an announcement in respect of his engagement with Cumbria’s energy coast to make best use—
Order. That is not a fair representation of the question. It is a poor effort, so I am going to let it go.
Community Energy Sector
Ofgem supports community energy projects and welcomes applications from the sector to the industry voluntary redress scheme. We encourage community energy groups to work with their local authority to support the development of community energy projects through UK-wide growth funding schemes.
Will my right hon. Friend support measures to enable community energy schemes to sell their clean power directly to local customers, as contained in last Session’s Local Electricity Bill, and look at including them in the Energy Bill?
Although I am sympathetic to the outcome desired by proponents of, for instance, last Session’s Local Electricity Bill, I am concerned that mandating suppliers to offer local tariffs may be disproportionate and have unintended consequences. But I am delighted to tell my hon. Friend, who I recognise is a great champion in this area, that as part of a wider review of market mechanisms we are considering retail market reforms and responses to the electricity market consultation.
While the Government seem particularly confused about their position on onshore wind—the most tried and tested and easiest to roll out of all renewables—their focus on community energy is even worse. The creation of strong, well informed, capable communities able to take advantage of their renewable energy resources and create community benefits is embraced by the Welsh Labour Government. Why do the Conservative Government not do the same?
I thank the hon. Lady for her typically partisan contribution. [Interruption.] She is always consistent, and her Front-Bench colleagues rightly point out that I have some things in common with her. The rural community energy fund has provided £8.8 million in development grants for 208 projects focusing on a variety of technologies, which I am pleased to say include solar, wind, low-carbon heating and electric vehicle charging. The Government will be delighted to work with the devolved Administrations and others to drive forward our pathway to net zero.
Referring to the Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), energy market reform is critical to ensure the growth of the community energy sector and to splitting out the wholesale gas price from the electricity price and other things. Will the Minister update the House on the Government’s current thinking on wholesale market reform?
We will update the House as soon as we have announcements to make.
Community energy schemes such as Hoy Energy Ltd in Orkney perform a really important role in the community by reinvesting their profits in local schemes and projects. Will the Minister assure me that when it comes to devising regulations under section 16 of the Energy Prices Act 2022, there will be exemptions for such companies to ensure that they can continue to put the profits that they generate back into the community?
The provisions in the Energy Prices Act have been superseded by the announcements made by the Chancellor in the autumn statement, and therefore I do not think that they strictly apply any longer, as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested.
Does the Minister accept that the inability of local energy providers to trade within their local community remains one of the biggest obstacles to the development of community energy overall? If he is not willing to take on board the provisions of the community energy Bill that is presently being promoted by community energy supporters, does he have any other ideas as to how that problem could be overcome in the context of the Energy Bill, which I am delighted to see has resumed its parliamentary process today?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and for his close interest in this field and knowledge of it. I look forward to sharing with the House further thoughts on how we can deliver precisely that more dynamic situation going forward. As he rightly says, there are provisions in the Energy Bill, which I am delighted to announce is resuming its passage through Parliament.
Off-grid Energy Support
The Government have doubled support to £200 for alternatively fuelled households in recognition of the pressures caused by rising fuel costs. We are committed to delivering that payment to households as soon as possible this winter, and will announce further information on the delivery and timing of those payments in due course.
People living in park homes are concerned that they have had no further information on when support will be available to them, or how they will access it. One representative of the company managing a park home site in my constituency first raised this issue with me in August, yet months on we still have no further information. Can the Minister provide some reassurance that people living in park homes will not slip through the cracks, and give some clarity as to when they will receive the £400 of support that they have been promised?
I think the hon. Lady has slightly confused the alternative fuel payment for those who are not on the gas grid with the energy bills support scheme—an easy mistake to make in this complex landscape. Those with a domestic electricity supply are already receiving the £400 discount under the EBS scheme that she has talked about. We are looking to come forward with details about timing, but it will be this winter; we are looking to work with local authorities in Great Britain to set up a scheme whereby people in park homes can apply as households, to ensure that they receive that £400 through local authorities as quickly as we can manage.
Now then. The residents of Ashfield mobile home park do not have a regular energy supplier. They get their gas and electricity sold on by the park owner—who, by the way, marks it up and puts a little bit back in his own pocket. Those residents do not have a great deal of money, so can the Minister please reassure them that help is on the way as soon as possible?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question; I hope he found my letter yesterday, and the annex to it, helpful. As I said, the Government have doubled support to £200 for alternatively fuelled households in recognition of the pressures caused by rising fuel costs. We are also determined to get support in place for edge cases. It sounds simple, and if I were where my hon. Friend is, I would certainly be shouting at the Minister to get on with it, but we do not live in a central database-driven society; it is necessary to identify these people in a way that protects public money. We are working flat out to deliver this support as quickly as we can.
A number of my constituents live in park homes, and many more have no access to gas mains and so rely on bulk deliveries of kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas. They are all concerned about the rising cost of energy, so would the Minister outline to the House how he is going to communicate to those groups the support that is available, and ensure that it is delivered for them this winter?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. As I said, we are very much looking to work with local authorities, which we think are in the best position to help to go through the verification and assessment process and look after public money, and most importantly, to get the funding to heating oil users and others who need support to meet these unprecedented bills this winter.
I call the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.
The Government announced this week that £1 billion will go towards energy efficiency to reduce energy bills. Will the Minister confirm how many new homes will be covered by that £1 billion?
I cannot give the Chair of the Committee an exact figure, but I hope that very large numbers will be covered by that—[Interruption.] Opposition Front Benchers may find that amusing, but we should remember how few homes had an energy performance certificate C when Labour left power and how many more have had their level raised since then.
Manufacturing: Support for Innovation
Despite the Opposition’s constant attempts to talk down UK manufacturing, the truth is that we are ninth in the world and fourth in Europe, and that our advanced manufacturing sector contributes £205 billion gross value added to the UK economy. That is why we continue to support it in sectors such as aerospace, automotive and life sciences through £850 million to the high-value manufacturing catapult and nearly £200 million through our Made Smarter programme.
Recently, Rolls-Royce, in conjunction with Gatwick-based easyJet, carried out a successful green hydrogen jet engine trial. Will my hon. Friend assure me that the Government will continue to invest in sustainable aviation innovation?
I thank my hon. Friend, the chair of the all-party group for the future of aviation, and I take this opportunity to invite the whole House to celebrate the world-first achieved by Rolls-Royce and easyJet: the first run of a green hydrogen-powered auto engine. I am happy to reconfirm our commitment to aerospace technology. That is why we have put £685 million into the Aerospace Technology Institute programme and £125 million through the industrial strategy challenge fund into the UK Research and Innovation future flight challenge. The UK is leading in clean energy for the aviation sector and jet zero.
The Government set a goal of the development of eight gigafactories before 2040. Will the Minister say how that is progressing, and will he reassure my constituents that the Government are in conversation with Britishvolt to secure its gigafactory site at Cambois in my constituency?
The hon. Member is absolutely right that we are committed to growing that supply chain for the gigafactory revolution in the north-east, the midlands and all around the country. That is why we set out, in our critical minerals strategy, a coherent plan for making sure that the country has the whole supply chain, as well as those factories. I know that the Minister with responsibility for energy technology will be happy to talk to the hon. Member to make sure that the supply chain is working locally as well.
On 16 November, the Government awarded the contract for the new fleet solid support ships to a Spanish state-led consortium. Around £700 million of that contract will go to overseas industry when our steel and shipbuilding sectors are crying out for support. Also on 16 November, the Minister for Industry and Investment Security wrote to me to say that the future of UK steel companies was a commercial decision. Will this Minister explain why the UK Government did not take the commercial decision to deliver £700 million of work to UK steelmakers and shipyards?
The hon. Member raises an important point. We are committed to using our Brexit freedoms both on procurement and regulation to support UK industries. I will raise that issue with the Minister for Industry and Investment Security, who sadly cannot be here this morning, and make sure that she picks that up with the hon. Member directly. However, the answer is that we are totally committed to the UK steel sector and to getting the balance right between ensuring that we have open procurement and that we use Government procurement muscle to back our industries. They are not easy decisions to make, but we are very sighted on them to try to get that balance right.
Small Business Support
It is a delight to be part of a ministerial team of whom many members actually have a business background. We are for business because we are from business, and we know what it is like to lie awake at night worrying about how to pay the bills.
The reversal of the national insurance rise will save small businesses an average of approximately £4,200 a year, alongside the cut to fuel duty for 12 months and the energy bill relief scheme. The British Business Bank supports small and medium-sized enterprises to access growth finance.
From Muswell Hill to Myddleton Road, from Turnpike Lane to Hornsey High Street, we are celebrating Small Business Saturday in my constituency this weekend. There are two major concerns on the mind of small businesses. The first is the business rates expense. When will the Minister consider reforming it to help small business? The second is a wider question for business and trade unions about retained EU legislation, which is providing a lot of uncertainty in the business community and a drag on growth. When will the Government come out with a decision on that crucial issue?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question, especially the part about Small Business Saturday. As hon. Members can imagine, I will be spending much of the day visiting small businesses across my constituency. I will also shortly be attending a House of Lords reception to celebrate the 100 small businesses recognised in the programme.
As the hon. Lady knows, in the autumn statement my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced £13.6 billion of support for businesses over the next five years, reducing the burden of business rates for SMEs. Of course we all want to see reform, but simply announcing the scrapping of business rates without announcing any replacement cannot be the right thing, because it does not give business the certainty that it needs. That is the sensible reform that I think the hon. Lady should be grateful for.
May I put it on the record that as well as being the week of Small Business Saturday, this is Family Business Week? I had the opportunity to visit Tony at Croxley Hardware a few weeks ago. Does the Minister agree that small businesses are the lifeblood not only of the economy, but of our communities?
I thank my hon. Friend for his recognition of the small businesses in his constituency. He is absolutely right: there is no greater force behind the supply side of the economy than small businesses, which are essential to prosperity and productivity. He is absolutely right to champion their cause, and we should all join him in that endeavour.
There has been some talk about business rates. I appreciate what the Minister says about needing a proper plan. Businesses in my constituency tell me that business rates are their big bête noire and that reforming and replacing them would make their lives a lot easier and their survival more certain. Will he give some indication of the Government’s thinking, and of the timescale in which they might be looking at the matter? Labour is proposing a radical reform.
Well, Labour is proposing a radical reform, but we cannot quite work out whether it will scrap business rates or reform them. There have been mixed messages among Labour Front Benchers—indeed, among the shadow Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition—so we are not quite sure what Labour’s policy will be. We are certainly not sure how it would replace the £25 billion to £30 billion of revenue. I would really like to understand that.
This is a thorny issue, because if we scrapped business rates the taxpayer would have to find that huge amount of money by some other means. The right thing to do right now is to see businesses through this very difficult time with the kind of concession that we have made, such as the £13.6 billion, rather than making irresponsible and in my view undeliverable promises to completely scrap business rates.
Essex Linen Services, which provides laundry services to hospitals and hotels, is struggling to survive because of electricity prices. It believes that its sector has been left out of the energy support packages. Will the Minister agree to review the situation for providers of laundry services and see whether they can be supported in paying their electricity bills in future?
All businesses have access to the energy bill relief scheme. There are concerns about which sectors will be covered by the revised scheme. We will have details on that by the end of the year; the Government have committed to that. Clearly we are trying to balance the interests of the taxpayer, who has to fund this, with those of business. It is right that we focus on businesses that cannot mitigate their energy use, by whatever means, or pass on the costs to consumers. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the interests of the sector.
I call the shadow Minister, Seema Malhotra.
I grew up in a small family business. Labour is proud to be supporting Small Business Saturday and its 10th anniversary, and to have supported last week’s family business week.
Small and medium-sized enterprises are indeed the lifeblood of our economy, but they have been hit hard by 12 years of Tory failure and staggeringly low growth. Even after three Prime Ministers this year, the Government have no answers—and the House should not just take that from me; the Federation of Small Businesses judged the autumn statement as being
“low on wealth-creation, piling more pressure on the UK’s 5.5 million small businesses”.
If the Government are really serious about helping small businesses to grow, is it not time they adopted Labour’s plan to reform business rates, back our high streets, make Brexit work, and make Britain the best place in which to start and grow a business?
As one who was in business in 2010, I remember very well what the economy was like in that year, when we took over from Labour: it was not having a good time. [Interruption.] Yes, it is a lot stronger now.
We should bear in mind that while we can choose our own opinions, we cannot choose our own facts, and the facts are that the UK has experienced the third fastest growth in the G7 since 2010—behind only the United States and Canada—and has grown faster than Germany since 2016. It is right that we seek to provide new solutions for businesses; we have to stimulate the supply side of the economy, not least because that is good not only for businesses but for consumers. However, as I said earlier, simply claiming that you are going to scrap business rates without saying how you are going to replace that £25 billion of revenue is highly irresponsible.
SMEs: Recruitment Support
I am new to this, Mr Speaker.
My Department works closely with other Government Departments and with firms in all sectors of the economy on a range of issues relating to the labour market and skills. That includes increasing the number of apprentices and business investment in skills development, the adoption of T-levels and skills bootcamps, and ensuring that there is better information along with easier routes into careers in a range of sectors.
Last month I held a business roundtable with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. It was clear that SMEs were struggling with recruitment, high energy costs, Brexit, and £20 billion worth of late payments.
When it comes to late payments, the prompt payment code does not cut it for SMEs. Will the Minister work with me to introduce legislation to outlaw late payments once and for all and give our SMEs a fighting chance?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s correspondence on this matter, and I look forward to meeting him on 7 December.
The prompt payment code, which we introduced and which we reviewed recently, will be out for consultation very shortly, and I am keen to learn from best practice how we can make it more effective. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there are many issues facing businesses today, and we are keen to help them get through the difficulties that will no doubt continue over the next few months, but in my experience of business our best years come after our worst years, and I think we can be confident when looking ahead while also recognising that there will be difficult times in the short term.
There are many SMEs in the retail and hospital sector. It is a sector that does well in the run-up to Christmas, which gives those businesses the opportunity to make some money. What impact does the Minister think the rail strikes that are planned for next week will have on their ability to recruit more staff?
It is, of course, right that we look after the interests of business and consumers. There is no doubt that the strikes will have an impact on both parts of that sector, and it is also right for us to prioritise the needs of all consumers, not just those who are seeking to take industrial action. We urge all parties to get round the negotiating table as quickly as possible and try to reach a sensible agreement.
As my colleagues have already pointed out, the Government are supporting households and businesses during the winter through a series of measures including the energy price guarantee, which will save the average household £900 this winter, the £400 energy bill support scheme payment, and, for businesses, the energy bill relief scheme, which will provide a price reduction to ensure that all eligible businesses and other non-domestic customers are protected. That is in addition to the £2 billion that the energy-intensive industries have received since 2013.
Over the last six months, several businesses in my constituency have approached me to raise concerns about potential tenfold increases in their energy bills. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the Government will continue to act to ensure that no business will face such shocking increases in reality, either this year or next year?
In a word, yes. All of us in the Business Department are focused on the point that my hon. Friend raises—namely, the pressure on businesses from the energy price spike this winter. In the autumn statement the Chancellor announced the Treasury-led review of our energy bill relief scheme beyond March, and we are actively working as a Department to make sure that that review has all the necessary data and evidence from businesses. Our energy bill relief scheme supporting energy-intensive industries has put in £2 billion of relief since 2013, and our 2022 energy security strategy announced that the EII compensation scheme would be extended for a further three years. We are also looking at making similar changes to the related EII exemption scheme. The Business Department absolutely gets how much difficulty businesses are facing through energy.
The north-east of England process industry cluster has advised me that major companies on Teesside currently obtaining their energy via a private wire relationship do not qualify for the energy bill relief scheme, with some major employers paying millions more for their energy and facing the real prospect of ceasing operations and moving overseas. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how their concerns can be addressed?
Even better than that, I can make sure that the energy Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), meets the hon. Gentleman. We are aware of this problem and we are actively working on it.
BEIS Capital Spending
As the Department for science, research and innovation, with the historic uplift in public R&D announced in the comprehensive spending review 2021 and the autumn statement 2022, and the Department for net zero, BEIS secured the highest increase in capital budgets at the last spending review, growing at 8.3% per annum over the spending review period.
As we know, capital expenditure spent effectively drives economic growth. To this end, would the Minister agree that capital projects such as those in my constituency that will clearly help economic growth and can start in the next 12 months will be prioritised, and that additional support will be given where they have shortfalls due to rising costs?
My hon. Friend has put his powerful point on record. I can assure him that the Department is actively working with the Treasury to make sure that those sorts of schemes are accelerated.
Is it still in the Department’s plans to take a 20% shareholding in Sizewell C? If so, will that result in a capital spend of £6 billion or £7 billion—money that could be better spent elsewhere? Private investment could be freed up in the Scottish cluster if it was made a track 1 cluster and pumped storage hydro could be helped by agreeing a pricing mechanism for electricity.
Unlike the Scottish nationalists, we are committed to the private-public partnership that drives investment in our nuclear industry, and Sizewell C is a major commitment. The Government are proud to be partnering with industry, and it is a shame that the Scottish nationalists are not similarly partnering with industry for the benefit of Scots voters and bill payers.
Energy Price Guarantee
The Government have announced changes to the energy price guarantee from April 2023, as well as additional support for pensioners and those on benefits. The Government will work with consumer groups and industry to consider the best approach to consumer protection from April 2024 as part of wider retail market reforms.
Does the Minister agree that while subsidies are necessary short-term sticking plasters, investors will not commit the multi-billion pound investments that the energy sector needs to upgrade and modernise energy storage, generation and transmission unless the long-term rules are clear? Will he therefore update the Energy Bill to lay out a sustainable long-term future with investable deadlines and milestones to transition from today’s highly distorted, politicised and bureaucratic sector to a cheaper, simpler, better-value industry with much lower political and regulatory risks?
I am proud that this Government have led the way, with contracts for difference driving renewables such as offshore wind by driving down costs. I am also delighted that we have the legislative vehicle to deliver the necessary changes, and the Energy Security Bill will be taken forward in this Parliament to transform our energy industry by turbocharging carbon capture, utilisation and storage and our hydrogen industries in pioneering projects from the Humber to the Mersey, and beyond. The Bill will encourage competition in the energy sector, creating opportunity, prosperity and security with clean jobs, new skills and, as my hon. Friend rightly highlights, cheaper bills.
The Minister talks about long-term energy support. Will he bear in mind that, despite the promises made here today that everyone in the United Kingdom is already benefiting from short-term support, not one penny has been allocated to consumers in Northern Ireland, even though the electricity companies are ready and the utility regular has told him that the ground has been set. When will payments be made to people in Northern Ireland? We are looking not for promises tomorrow but for payments today.
The energy price guarantee is benefiting Northern Ireland consumers today, along with pensioners and vulnerable families—they are all being helped. Of course, energy policy is devolved to Northern Ireland, and we have had to step in because of the lack of an Executive. We are working very hard. I held a roundtable with energy suppliers only last week, and another one was held yesterday. We are doing everything within our power to find the right route, while protecting public money in the proper fashion, to get money out to Northern Ireland consumers this winter. We are doing everything for our part, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will support me in urging others to do the same.
With Sizewell C, we are securing a cheap, clean and reliable supply of energy to supercharge growth—I will provide more details in my oral statement. We have recommitted to increasing public investment in research and development to £20 billion each year by 2024-25, which will supercharge science and innovation, and we are supporting local enterprises and increasing the national living wage by almost 10%, the largest ever cash-terms increase.
As well as renewables, it is clear that we need to add more baseload capacity, and nuclear is the favourite for that. Hundreds of my constituents work at Rolls-Royce, and many of them work on the development of small modular nuclear reactors. Will my right hon. Friend outline what support the Government are giving to Rolls-Royce to develop this technology, which will not only add to the UK’s energy security but deliver a technology that we will be able to export successfully around the globe?
Like my hon. Friend, I am very keen on small nuclear reactors as part of the solution. We will be launching Great British Nuclear early next year to assist both Rolls-Royce and its competitors. There are other brands out there, all of which have interesting ideas about modular production of nuclear power, which will provide sustainable energy even when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.
I call the shadow Secretary of State.
I welcome the Business Secretary to his first oral questions. He is the third Business Secretary we have had this year, and I have to say that lack of stability is the No. 1 complaint from businesses, which genuinely cannot keep track of Government policy in any particular area. If they do know the policy, they feel it could change at any moment if the internal politics of the Conservative party shift one way or the other. Does he accept that political instability has very real consequences for economic stability?
I very much welcome the hon. Gentleman’s welcome, I hope to be in post for a long time, not to disappoint him in any way. His talk about the instability of policy is a bit rich, as many Labour Members sat on the Front Bench under their previous leader, who believed in a whole bunch of different things. Even the shadow Secretary of State for Climate Change and Net Zero, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), once said it is impossible for this country to get to 40% renewable energy—he called it “pie in the sky.” Right now we are producing 43.1% of our energy from renewables. That is from a party that is consistent.
Respectfully, I think the Business Secretary needs to focus a little bit more on his own side and the humility required to do that.
On a more positive note, this Saturday is small business Saturday. A future Labour Government will tackle the issue of late payments to small and medium-sized enterprises by making audit committees report on public companies’ payment practices. With more than £20 million waiting to be paid at any one time, this is a change that will make a real difference and one that is backed by the Federation of Small Businesses. We could, however, implement it sooner by amending the draft audit reform Bill when it comes forward. Would the Secretary of State support that change?
I agree that payment for small businesses is very important, particularly when it is not done by larger companies that have the resources. That is one of the reasons why the Government have led the way to make sure that, when small businesses deal with Government, payments are made quickly and efficiently. The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) is looking at a whole range of different things to ensure that we speed up the culture of late payments to small businesses, and he will be saying more about that very shortly.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Labour Members talk about helping businesses, but that is what you get with a Labour Mayor in London, bashing businesses. I would be proud to meet my hon. Friend.
We do not know where the half a billion pounds announced last week to cover Horizon uncertainty is coming from, as the Science Minister refuses to answer my questions, but we do know that British scientists are still having to choose between the country they love and the funding they need. British science, British businesses and British jobs are at risk while the Government play a blame game, instead of keeping their manifesto promise to associate with the world’s biggest science fund. Will the Science Minister admit that no science fund can have the efficiency, effectiveness, influence, prestige or range of Horizon, and that he has let British science down?
In a word, no. I will tell the hon. Lady exactly where the £484 million that we announced last Monday—I think the Opposition supported it—is coming from. It is coming from Her Majesty’s Treasury to support universities, researchers and companies in this country that have been affected by—and this is the second point—the European Union’s block on our negotiated membership of Horizon, Copernicus and Euratom. I was in Paris last week negotiating. We are still actively pushing to be in Horizon, Copernicus and Euratom, but we have made provision, and early in the new year Members will start to see that we will be rolling out additional support for fellowships, innovation and global partnerships. If UK scientists cannot play in the European cup, we will play in the world cup of science.
That is absolutely right. Voters will have their say. I say no taxation without representation.
We consider all those that have left the energy charter treaty, but we have so far supported its modernisation. We keep that under advisement.
I do enthusiastically support our SAF—sustainable aviation fuel—industry. Actually, it is a little known fact that last year at COP26 we sent more than 500 aircraft home with sustainable aviation fuel in their tanks, and this country has set a more ambitious target for sustainable aviation fuel than elsewhere, with 10% by 2030.
The Groceries Code Adjudicator has done a good job over the past 10 years, leading to a big fall in the number of breaches of the fair purchasing code, but bad practice is still rife in the fashion industry, with UK fashion retailers among the worst offenders. The Environmental Audit Committee called for a garment trade adjudicator. Will Ministers bring that proposal forward?
I thank the right hon. Member for all his work in this area; I know that he has done an awful lot. We have no plans to bring forward a garment code adjudicator, but we do take reports of illegal and unsafe employment practices very seriously. Since October 2020, a wide group of stakeholders, comprising retailers, manufacturers and non-profit organisations have been working with the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority to address poor practice and working conditions.
I can confirm that that is the intention with Great British Nuclear. I know that areas such as Wylfa Newydd—if I am pronouncing it correctly—in my hon. Friend’s constituency could well be in line to benefit. However, as she can tell from my Welsh pronunciation, I suspect that I will be on the English side tonight.
Yesterday, I hosted a roundtable meeting for businesses in my constituency. They were worried about late payments and a Government who are not helping them. Fifty thousand businesses close every year due to late payments, and small businesses account for two thirds of UK private sector employment. Will this Government act before the worst of the Tory-led recession bites to save millions of jobs?
I thank the hon. Member for his question. He is absolutely right to bring up this matter. It is one of the concerns that has been raised most frequently with me since taking on this role. We are tackling the culture of late payments with measures including the Payment Practices Reporting, the Small Business Commissioner and the Prompt Payment Code, but I am determined to see how much further we can go to be effective in this area.
It is great to hear that my hon. Friend’s constituent is looking to export right across the world, and we are determined to make it easier to do so through trade deals outside the European Union. Ministers and officials from across BEIS regularly engage with SMEs on a wide range of issues and will continue to do so as the retained EU law programme proceeds.
Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), when will Ministers start to use procurement in order to generate and defend British jobs? I have been listening for years to Ministers coming to that Dispatch Box saying that they will use procurement, so when will we actually see it?
That is a very important point. The Government are determined to tackle not just their own procurement practices, but those further afield. Clearly, we want to keep our markets open to international competition, because we want to compete internationally as well, but there also needs to be fair competition. Where we can prioritise the needs of British companies and British workers, we should do so.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for standing up for his constituency businesses; I hope he is supporting Small Business Saturday this weekend, as I am sure hon. Members across the House will be. It is absolutely right that we are supporting businesses through these difficult times with the energy bill relief scheme and the £13.6 billion of rates support that they will see over the next five years, but we will continue to look at the needs of business to ensure that we have the right measures in place.
The Rosebank oilfield would produce more than 200 million tonnes of CO2 when burned, which is equivalent to running 58 coal-fired power stations for a year and more than the combined annual emissions of 28 low-income countries. How does that make any sense in a world where heating needs to be constrained to below 1.5°?
Our use of oil and gas in this country is falling as part of our pathway to net zero. It is usage that drives the burning of oil and gas, and it is on the downward pathway. Producing our own oil and gas when we will be burning it on our net zero pathway domestically is sensible. It is good for Scottish jobs—although sadly opposed by the Scottish nationalists—it is good for the British economy and it is entirely net zero compliant. That is why we will continue to manage the mature and declining basin that is the North sea.
I call Henry Smith.
My hon. Friend will be reassured to know that I did know that he would have a topical question, and the answer to it is yes.
Recently, a Premier Inn hotel in my constituency threw out one of their visually impaired guests, Ms Angharad Paget-Jones, and her guide dog Tudor in the middle of the night because they refused to believe, despite being shown identification, that Tudor was a guide dog. Can the Minister tell me what action his Department is taking not only to ensure that businesses are complying with the Equality Act 2010, but to go after those who show frank disregard for it in practice?
That is a very disturbing case, and I am happy to help the hon. Lady with it. I know that the guide dog campaigning organisations have this issue in their sights as something we need to address. I would be grateful if she wrote to me with the specific instance and I will be happy to deal with it for her.
I welcome the Government’s recent doubling of the alternative fuel payment and yesterday’s written communication from the Minister confirming that the majority of households eligible for those payments will receive their £200 automatically as a credit on their electricity bill. Can he reassure constituents in Banff and Buchan who are dependent on heating oil in particular that those payments will indeed be made as soon as practically possible?
I can give my hon. Friend and his constituents that assurance.
A few months ago, CF Fertilisers in Billingham ceased ammonia production there because of the high gas price. Now Mitsubishi, just a few hundred yards along the road, is consulting on the closure of one of its plants, with the loss of hundreds of direct and contractor jobs, for the same reason. Is the Minister aware of that latest blow to Teesside, and what is he doing to help firms such as Mitsubishi?
I was up in Teesside the week before last, and I have been keeping in close contact with what is happening there. The good news is that there are new jobs coming about in new industries, including new industries supplying electric battery manufacturing, which are available because this country is outside the European Union and able to produce new rules that will allow things such as green lithium to thrive here and provide up to 8% of Europe’s entire needs. New jobs are coming to Teesside.
As my right hon. Friend will know, maths and higher maths is often the foundation skill upon which other innovative technologies are built. Can he therefore tell the House what steps his Department is taking both to fund higher maths and to give people the skills they need in maths to help us to reinforce our status as a global science power?
My hon. Friend makes an important point: maths is one of the underpinning disciplines of all our science and technology leadership. That is why we have increased funding through UK Research and Innovation for core maths, and I am delighted to confirm that we are looking at various ways in which we might be able to turbocharge our international fellowships in maths as well.
Households in Great Britain have had access to the £400 energy support payments since 1 October, but households in Northern Ireland have not had any substantial support whatsoever. The energy price guarantee does not really work in Northern Ireland, because 70% of households there use oil. Can the Government give the people of Northern Ireland a firm date by which the £400 payments will be made available?
As I said in an earlier answer, we are doing everything we can, working through suppliers, to ensure that the money reaches Northern Ireland consumers. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that every single Northern Ireland household is receiving the alternative fuel payment, in addition to the energy bills support scheme. We are looking to make sure not only that that money gets out and is credited to households, but that they are able to access it this winter. There is no point having it as a credit on an electricity bill, as that does not help them deal with other costs this winter. That is the sticking point; that is what we are working on.
Come on, Minister—you said you had already answered it once.
The proposed takeover of Activision by Microsoft has the potential to have a profound impact on many of Britain’s brilliant video games industry manufacturers and makers. Although I know that the Secretary of State will not want to comment on the specifics of that case, can he reassure me that the Competition and Markets Authority has all the resources it needs to come to the right conclusion and to do so as thoroughly and rapidly as possible on this important matter?
My hon. Friend is right to raise that question. I know that the CMA has received a large number of submissions, and some very large submissions as well. I think it has until 1 March next year to complete its phase 2 inquiry. We absolutely believe that it has the right resources to do that, and we will make sure that it has over the coming months.