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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 728: debated on Tuesday 28 February 2023

Energy Security and Net Zero

The Secretary of State was asked—

Household Energy Efficiency Measures

The Government have made good progress, with 47% of homes in England now having reached the Government’s 2035 target of achieving energy performance certificate level C and above, which is up from 14% in 2010.

I want to talk about radiator sludge, as I went to see ADEY Innovation Ltd, a company in my constituency, where I learned that dirty radiators increase energy bills by 7% and people may be getting 47% less heat through poor water quality. Yet in the Government’s £25 million energy efficiency advice campaign there is nowt about the benefits of magnetic filtration and other affordable things that companies such as ADEY Innovation offer households. Will my right hon. Friend agree to work with me to include this advice and meet to discuss this?

My hon. Friend is right to worry about radiator sludge, and I fully support her in her concerns. I am pleased to tell her that in this Parliament and into the next we have committed £12.6 billion to campaigns to ensure not just that we tackle the radiator sludge, but that we do things throughout homes to improve their insulation and other technologies. I would be happy to meet her.

Retrofitting older homes can reduce carbon emissions, cut energy bills, make homes warmer, reduce reliance on gas and bring new green jobs to the north. However, the costs associated with retrofitting are currently prohibitive to achieving it on a large scale. What more can my right hon. Friend do to ensure that we bring down the cost of retrofitting homes?

My hon. Friend is right about the cost of doing this. I have described how we are getting towards half of homes having been improved, but he will be pleased to hear about the £4 billion extension of the energy company obligation through its fourth phase, ECO4, along with ECO+, which involves another £1 billion to assist with some of the economics of ensuring that all homes can be improved.

Of course we all welcome as many energy efficiency measures as possible and encourage households to put them in place, but the fact remains that many middle-income and low-income constituents in my constituency are still struggling to pay their energy bills and are under great financial pressure. They are looking at how energy companies are making vast profits and now talking about giving vast bonuses to their chief executives and managers. People want something doing about that, and they want the Government and the energy companies to play their part more to ensure that an equal share is paid. We should have a windfall tax as well.

We have a windfall tax; it is at 75%, as opposed to just 19% for corporation tax elsewhere. It is worth explaining to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that the Government are currently paying about 50% of a typical household energy bill. Where are we getting that money from? We are largely getting it from taxing the gas and oil companies.

Labour has a plan to upgrade our homes and eradicate fuel poverty with a warm homes plan to insulate 19 million homes over a decade. Does the Secretary of State regret the decision of the Liberal Democrat and Conservative coalition Government to cut the “green crap”, as a previous Prime Minister put it? That left people in poorly insulated homes and with expensive homes.

I explained in an earlier answer that we have gone from having just 14% of homes in 2010 with an energy rating of A to C to having 46% today. So it is clear that these plans have been working, and I have just talked about another £12.6 billion to finish off the job.

There are people in my constituency and across the country who need a lot of advice on how to retrofit older homes in an affordable way. The issue is not just the cost of retrofitting, but good advice on how to do that. I declare an interest: I happen to live in an older home where such advice may be needed. How will the Government help many people in my constituency, and indeed across the country, get that sort of advice on retrofitting older homes?

My hon. Friend, who is in a neighbouring constituency to mine, will be delighted to hear that the ECO+ scheme—another £1 billion—is specifically aimed at trying to get to homes in the private and commercial sector that are sometimes harder to decarbonise. It is one scheme that he will want to consider, but, without wishing to give too much away, he should watch this space.

We were insulating 10 times as many homes in 2010 as this Government are doing now. Everyone knows what has happened since the Secretary of State’s Government decided to get rid of the “green crap”. Will he adopt Labour’s plan to insulate 19 million homes over the next 10 years? It has the support of the Construction Leadership Council, the Federation of Master Builders and the building trade as a whole. It will create new jobs, cut bills and play its part in reducing carbon emissions. Will he do it?

This is one of those slightly odd parallel universes: we are saying that we have gone from just 14% to 46% of homes with A to C ratings—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Minister of State suggests we might even be hitting 47%. I have also stood at this Dispatch Box and talked about £12.6 billion of investment to go even further, yet the Labour party will not just say, “That is very good, and we’ll support you.”

The fact is that, in the last Tory manifesto, the Government promised to spend £9.2 billion on energy efficiency, but they have allocated only £6.6 billion of that, over £2 billion of which has still not be spent. The Lords have just described take-up of the boiler upgrade scheme as “disappointingly low” and Government promotion of the scheme as “inadequate”. Does the Minister at least acknowledge that, at current insulation rates, it will take 92 years to retrofit the 19 million homes that need it and that if we are to bring down energy costs for people who are struggling with sky-high bills now, he needs to do a whole lot better?

There is still a considerable chunk of this Parliament left to run. As I have explained several times—I will say it again for the hon. Lady, who may have missed the point—we have already got pretty close to half the homes in this country being rated A to C —up from just 14%. We are well on our way to getting this job done. I appreciate her encouragement, but we will finish this off ourselves.

Energy Charter Treaty

2. What discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the potential scope of a co-ordinated withdrawal from the energy charter treaty. (903784)

I have not held discussions with EU counterparts on the scope of co-ordinated withdrawal from the energy charter treaty and note that the EU itself does not have an agreed position as yet. We are closely monitoring the situation on the ECT.

The energy charter treaty allows fossil fuel companies to sue Governments for loss of profits caused by decarbonising. Does the Minister agree that any treaty that punishes attempts to tackle the climate crisis is fundamentally wrong? Does he also agree with France, Spain, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Slovenia, the European Parliament and the European Commission that modernising the ECT is impossible and that it is time to participate in a co-ordinated withdrawal from this deeply damaging treaty?

We were firm proponents of modernising the treaty precisely so that it would not do what the hon. Lady described, but, as I have said already, we will continue to watch the situation closely.

Prepayment Meters: Forced Installation

15. How many households in Newport West constituency had forced installations of prepayment meters in 2022. (903798)

I wrote to suppliers in January calling on them to halt the inappropriate use of prepayment meters and to provide transparency on the use of warrants in people’s homes. Along with a number of other steps, that has led to the cessation of that practice.

The Secretary of State will know that I wrote to all energy companies before the practice was suspended. The mixed bag of responses showed that a voluntary approach simply will not work. Utilita chief executive officer Bill Bullen said:

“We will not commit to ending the forcible use of prepay. That course of action is simply not sustainable.”

There is a suspension until 31 March, and compensation has been talked about. However, all that is about is Ofgem asking companies to look at whether the forced instalment was appropriate. Companies know that Ofgem is toothless. It is down to the Secretary of State to ban this practice and to set out how compensation will be given out.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s moves in this sphere. To be clear to the House, I wrote to the suppliers and received reassurances that they would end the practice. I asked Ofgem—I have to say that I thought the wool had been pulled over its eyes—to not just take energy companies’ word for it but go to the customers, which it is doing. I queried the fact that the courts were issuing mass warrants, which they have agreed to end. He talks about what happens next; he is right that Ofgem is looking at what further protections will be in place. Its work will conclude shortly with further announcements.

I thank the Secretary of State for his initial response, but constituents in Newport West will be disappointed by it. This Government are ducking their responsibilities on the control of energy bills, and are relying on the regulator to do the right thing. How can it be right that the installation of prepayment meters will recommence at the end of March? Why should those with the least have to pay the most to heat their homes and keep the lights on?

I take issue with the idea that the Government are somehow ducking our responsibility. As I mentioned, we are paying around half of household energy bills this winter. We took action—I will not repeat what it was—that brought the prepayment meter scandal to a conclusion. That work, and what happens next, is being looked at very carefully. Ofgem will look at what happens if there is no fall-back solution when energy bills are not being paid. That is a complex issue, but more will be said about it soon.

The news that British Gas broke into the homes of vulnerable people to force-fit prepayment meters is shocking, but bears little surprise to anyone who has had to interact with that company. The Government seem to cower from taking on the big energy companies as they continue to rip off the British people. Will those on the Conservative Benches finally act to protect such households and force energy firms to pay out and compensate now rather than at the end of the Ofgem review?

I do not think I could have been any more vocal about this issue. Indeed, we brought that practice, which the hon. Lady rightly describes as abhorrent, to a close. We are also not soft on the energy providers, particularly given the 75% taxation, which is at a level designed to ensure that we have been able to support, in part, the 50% reduction in people’s household bills. As I said in answer to the previous two questions, we will return with more on this shortly.

Many on the Conservative Benches will be wondering what on earth Ofgem has been doing. It is supposed to be a regulator and to look after consumer interests, but it blunders around. It blundered around with the price gap, and it blundered around with its market entry strategy, meaning that energy companies could essentially put all bill payers’ money on red in a casino. It has ended up with billions of pounds taxpayers’ money being put into bailouts. Please can we have something more than the efforts by the Government to look at new non-executive directors—surely it is time to ask why the chief executive remains in post—and can we have better oversight of this regulator and regulators in general? They are getting away with ripping off consumers and allowing companies to do exactly the same.

I think it is always right that we keep what our regulators do under very close watch. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State has met the chief executive officer of Ofgem regularly, and I am meeting him shortly as well. We will continue to do that. I have called Ofgem out when I have been concerned and thought that it had had the wool pulled over its eyes by the energy companies, and I will continue to ensure that whatever happens will be appropriate for the future of this market. As my hon. Friend knows, we are undertaking a review of the way in which the energy markets operate at the moment.

What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the potential for the Government’s new five-point plan to tackle bad behaviour by energy suppliers?

There is no space for the sort of approach that we have seen from energy suppliers, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning this. We have to have a situation where they respect their customers. Where there has not been the case, I am afraid that suppliers need to ensure, as one or two Labour Members have mentioned, that they recompense their customers for the way they have behaved—outrageously, in many cases, including entering people’s homes without their permission.

The Secretary of State says that he has brought the scandal of prepayment meters to an end, but it certainly is not at an end. Indeed, the Government were repeatedly warned about this scandal but were effectively paralysed while thousands of vulnerable householders were disconnected by the back door. Customers now face more uncertainty as the moratorium on forced installations ends in just four weeks’ time, with nothing in its place. Can the Secretary of State confirm that there will be no lifting of the ban until this rotten system has been reformed and that there will be a proper compensation scheme managed by the Government for every customer affected?

As I mentioned previously, there is a role for prepayment meters. For example, my son lives in a shared flat, and they find a prepayment meter a very good way to pay the energy bill. I do not think that an outright ban is the right way to go, but the hon. Gentleman and others have rightly pointed out the level of concern across the House, which I absolutely share, about prepayment meters being forced on customers. We will ensure that we do not go back to those bad old days that I was pleased to play an important part in stopping.

Emissions Trading Schemes: Carbon Leakage Protection

4. Whether he has made a comparative assessment of the adequacy of protection against carbon leakage for energy-intensive industries under the (a) UK emissions trading scheme and (b) EU emissions trading system. (903786)

The UK has committed to protecting our industry from carbon leakage, and like other carbon pricing systems, including the EU ETS, we currently provide free allocations to at-risk sectors. We are undertaking a review of both free allocation and carbon leakage policy.

Since it was set up in 2020, the result of the UK emissions trading scheme has been that the cost of carbon allowances has consistently been much higher than in the EU and other competitive countries, partly due to the fact that the net zero policy has led to a reduction in those allowances. That has led to heavy industries such as steel, aluminium and oil refining going abroad, with a loss of jobs and strategic industries. Given the impact that this is having, will the Minister commit first to rejecting the 50% reduction in allowances planned for 2024, and secondly to reforming the cost containment mechanism to make it easier to intervene in future?

I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says. We currently give sectors at risk of carbon leakage a proportion of their allowances for free, to reduce their exposure to the carbon price, with those free allowances being worth billions of pounds per year at current prices. The 2021 “Developing the UK ETS” consultation proposed to guarantee this level of free allocation until 2026, subject to activity level changes. We will consult no later than the end of 2023 on the methodology for distributing free allowances and explore ways to better target free allocations at those most at risk of carbon leakage.

Energy Bills: Support for Businesses

I mentioned before that we are paying around half of the household energy bill. We are also paying around one third of business energy bills right now through the energy bill relief scheme.[Official Report, 12 June 2023, Vol. 734, c. 1MC.]

A few weeks ago I went to St Nicholas Street in Ipswich to talk to some of the local businesses, including Bar Twenty One and Hopsters. Bar Twenty One has made a fantastic start to business, despite the difficult climate. Those who run Bar Twenty One talked about pedestrianising the street, which I support. They also raised the issue of energy bills and their frustration at seeing a decline in wholesale prices but still not feeling the benefit of that. Will my right hon. Friend outline to me and to those businesses what steps he believes the energy suppliers should be taking to support businesses and get them on to fair contracts?

I really want to see a well-functioning energy market, and I have written to Ofgem about this. There is a request for information about the challenges facing non-domestic customers. As we see energy prices fall like a feather, having rocketed up, it is frustrating not to see those prices pass through. It is not the only frustration I have about the energy market—for example, it is 10 times cheaper to produce offshore wind than it is to buy gas right now, but we do not see that reflected in the prices. That is why we are looking at the entire operation of this marketplace.

For the purposes of energy bill support, hospices are treated as businesses. They have seen a rise in their energy costs of 350%. They support some of the most vulnerable and needy people in our society, and the majority of their funding comes from private and charitable donations. Will the Secretary of State consider a special support fund for our hospices, so that they can keep caring for those who need it the most?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the case of hospices. In my constituency, there is the Isabel Hospice, of which I am a regular patron, so I hear its concerns about issues such as energy prices. We have had a generous scheme in place and we have a further scheme that will continue to run. I will look at his specific concerns.

Energy Bills: Alternative Fuels

Alternative fuel users have received significant support this winter: first, by direct subsidy of their electricity bills per unit; secondly, through £400 of additional payments across the winter; and thirdly, by £200 paid automatically, for the vast majority, by their electricity supplier, which began on 6 February and finished, I am pleased to say, today. A small minority will need to apply and that portal will open soon.

Many people in Meon Valley use heating oil for their heating, and many have contacted me concerned that they have not received Government support yet. Some are having to wait because they are having to apply by phone. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that support is being rolled out and, crucially, that it will be received by those who are eligible in time for it to be of use this winter?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s efforts to highlight the issue throughout the winter to make sure that the funding gets to the people who need it, when they need it. It has been challenging to make sure that every group across the country—domestic and non-domestic—gets it. I am pleased that the vast majority of people who are on alternative fuels have received that payment or credit this month, and that the portal will open imminently. We will follow the process for those who do not have an electricity supply for the £400 from the EBS scheme, which we are getting out as quickly as we can.

Under the scheme to which the Minister refers, the Government have rightly provided £600 to customers in Northern Ireland, where there is a high incidence of off-grid energy users. That statistic is even higher in my constituency of Na h-Eileanan an Iar, which, by dint of being islands, are more geographically distinct. Can we have a consistency of approach from the UK Government? Rather than just paying £400 and asking people to apply for another £200—knowing, as we all do, that some will fall through the gaps—we need a consistency of approach, given the statistics and geography in support of that, which pays my constituents £600 as well.

The hon. Gentleman has used every corridor and voting Lobby opportunity to lobby me throughout the winter on this issue. I am pleased to say that his constituents will have received, through their electricity supplier, the £200 in addition to the £400. The small minority who do not have an electricity supply will be able to apply on the portal very soon. The net effect will be the same as we have seen in Northern Ireland—I think his constituents are in the same position—where people have each received £600 of direct subsidy with the direct subsidy of per unit energy use to boot.

Energy Price Guarantee: Fuel Poverty

8. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the rise in the energy price guarantee in April 2023 on levels of fuel poverty. (903791)

The energy price guarantee has been supporting households and will continue to do so from April ’23 by limiting the amount that suppliers can charge per unit of energy used.

The latest figures from 2020 show that, in parts of Lupset and Thornes in my constituency, more than two in five households were in fuel poverty. People are being left unable to heat their homes, have a shower or cook a hot meal. Since 2020, fuel poverty has continued to rise and the crisis has only got worse. Can the Minister explain to my constituents what is fair about those in fuel poverty facing even higher bills, when wholesale gas costs are falling and energy companies’ profits are continuing to rise?

The Government announced in the autumn statement that the energy price guarantee will continue from April ’23. An analysis for 2022, which was published today, shows that 350,000 households in England were kept out of fuel poverty as a result of the support offered to households with energy bills.

I welcome the Minister to her new role. Her Department’s responsibility is to tackle fuel poverty, so the planned rise in the price cap is the first big test. If it goes ahead, the number of people in fuel poverty will jump by almost 2 million, which is why many people, including those from leading energy charities, are telling her Department to stop the cap rising. Will she and the Secretary of State now do their jobs and tell the Chancellor to cancel the rise?

To reiterate, the Government have been looking at this issue incredibly closely. The analysis so far for 2022 shows that 350,000 households in England were kept out of fuel poverty.

I am afraid that is no answer to the question. We have millions of families across the country, and we have bills going out this week. People do not want sympathy or warm words: they want certainty from the Government.

This is a political choice, because the Government are saying that they cannot afford to do any more to help families, but at the same time, they refuse a proper windfall tax and bung billions of pounds in handouts to the oil and gas companies. Is not the truth that the reason people are sick and tired of this Government is that they put the balance sheet of fossil fuel companies ahead of the family budgets of the British people?

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that we have been paying half of household energy bills, and that we will continue to look at this.

Energy Bill Support: Heat Network Customers

Heat network consumers have been supported throughout the winter through the energy bill relief scheme, with discounts on their heating and hot water bills, and the energy bills support scheme, paid primarily through domestic electricity bills.

The Minister will know that the energy bill relief scheme has not succeeded in limiting commercial gas prices to 7.5p per kilowatt-hour as intended, and that the energy bill support scheme alternative fund only went live last week. The result is that, faced with staggeringly high energy bills, most heat network customers are receiving woefully inadequate financial support, and some have yet to receive any support at all. Can I urge the Government in the strongest possible terms to look again at how we might properly protect the half a million customers served by communal and district heating systems?

From April, under the successor to the energy bill relief scheme, the Government are committed to providing support that is in line with support to other domestic consumers. The Government are working on the successor to that scheme, and if anybody has any issues, of course, they can contact the energy ombudsman if they are concerned.

Renewable Energy Production

I am pleased to tell my right hon. Friend that growth in the renewables sector continues year on year, with the latest data showing that 3.4 GW of new renewable electricity capacity was installed last year alone. We will build on that further: we have now taken our highly successful contracts for difference scheme and put it on an annual basis, so allocation round 5 will open next month.

Oil and gas producers benefit from an investment allowance for investment in renewable projects in the UK, but existing renewable generators do not. Will my right hon. Friend make representations to the Chancellor, so that he can level up that anomaly and enable my right hon. Friend’s admirable renewable energy ambitions to be realised?

I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. As he knows, tax policy is a matter for the Chancellor, but I am working closely with him, along with the Secretary of State, to ensure that the electricity generator levy strikes the right balance when supporting households and businesses struggling with their energy bills. It is worth remembering that, as I have just mentioned, our main mechanism is the CfD, which provides support for renewable generators in a way that is certainly not true of those in the oil and gas sector.

Earlier this month, the pan-European EVOLVE project found significantly greater potential for marine energy in British waters, which would obviously help us achieve our net zero targets and offer a quicker route to round-the-clock renewable and carbon-free energy. Why are Ministers being so timid about backing that cutting-edge energy technology?

I take it that the hon. Gentleman is talking about tidal stream. I am delighted to say that we are the world leader in tidal stream, and that in allocation round 4—the last round of our CfD—tidal stream was included for the first time. We have greater deployment than any other country in the world, but I am like the hon. Gentleman: I share his enthusiasm for that technology, and hope to see even more from it in future.

Following on from that point about tidal stream, MeyGen in the Pentland firth is the largest consented tidal stream site in the world. To date, that site has produced 70% of global tidal stream generation, but inflation pressures have now put that project at a crossroads. It has the chance to remain the world’s leading project through a genuine scale-up, but what is required now is a £40 million ringfenced pot in AR5. Will the Government do the right thing, step up and back tidal stream, allowing Scotland to continue being a world leader?

I am proud of the fact that we are a world leader, and of course it is only thanks to the CfD scheme, which relies on levies across the whole of GB, that we are able to realise the renewable potential in Scotland. If the separatists had their way, we would not see the development that I hope to see in offshore wind, tidal and other technologies thanks to the whole of the UK, and Great Britain in particular, working together.

I am really disappointed by that answer. I was hoping that the Minister would give some commitment to tidal stream going forward. If he is talking about the whole UK and how Scotland benefits, he needs to start backing the Acorn carbon capture cluster, too. Scotland could generate up to 300,000 hydrogen jobs within the just transition, and part of that relies on the Acorn cluster getting the go-ahead. Also, Acorn is required for Scotland to meet its 2030 emissions targets. Instead of blunder and bluster, when are the Government going to step up and back Acorn?

We are the world leader, and the largest deployment of tidal stream in the world is in Scotland. We will shortly be making more announcements about allocation round 5. We will also be making announcements in the next few weeks about hydrogen, carbon capture and the future there, and I have already committed in the House to accelerating our approach to that.

Solar Power

11. What assessment he has made of the potential contribution of solar power to UK energy security and the 2050 net zero target. (903794)

Solar is a cheap and versatile technology. It is a key part of the Government’s strategy for net zero and I share the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm for it. We are aiming for up to 70 GW of installed solar capacity by 2035, and that represents a fivefold increase in our current capacity.

I welcome the Minister’s enthusiasm for solar and the progress that has been made so far. According to Solar Energy UK, the rate at which solar panels are being put on to domestic roofs is still only half of what is needed to meet the Government’s own targets. I know that he wants to do much better, so is it not time to pick up the pace and give us a real rooftop revolution by making solar panels mandatory on all suitable new homes? Will he do that?

More than a million homes now have solar panels installed. According to data from the microgeneration certification scheme, a total of 130,596 solar panels were installed on UK rooftops last year alone, and that is more than 2019, 2020 and 2021 put together, but like the hon. Lady I want to see us go further and faster.

Energy security and food security should have equal billing, yet the proliferation of solar farms across thousands of acres of agricultural land is taking away from our nation’s ability to produce food. Warehouses up and down the land want to put solar panels on their roofs, but find they cannot because of the grid connections. What steps are being taken to ensure that the solar revolution can come on rooftops, not agricultural land?

The planning system is designed to seek that balance with the need to secure a clean, green energy system. It is worth noting that ground-mounted solar has probably the lowest levelised cost of any form of energy in this country. The Government have clarified the definition of “best and most versatile” agricultural land as constituting lands in grades 1, 2 and 3a, and we do everything we can to incentivise that solar should go on brownfield land or land of lower agricultural value.

2050 Net Zero Target

The Government continued to make good progress on our pathway to net zero in 2021. The UK’s net territorial greenhouse gas emissions were estimated to be 427 million tonnes. That is 48% lower than they were in 1990.

I know that the Secretary of State and Ministers know the importance of carbon capture, usage and storage, not only to be able to reach our net zero targets, but for the huge job opportunities available in my constituency of Great Grimsby. Can my right hon. Friend please tell me when track 2 of the CCUS cluster sequencing programme will be launched?

My hon. Friend did a terrific job, I recall, as a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Whip briefly in the past year. She is absolutely right about carbon capture, utilisation and storage. We have the potential for 78 billion tonnes of CO2 to be stored. The answer to her track 2 question is: very shortly.

While I welcome the grants of up to £5,000 that the Government are making available for boiler replacement, as the Secretary of State will know, a heat pump will cost £8,000 to £15,000, so many of our constituents would not be able to afford it even with that grant, and 90,000 such grants do not constitute a plan to decarbonise the 23 million homes in this country that have gas boilers. When do the Government intend to come forward with such a plan?

I think heat pumps are rather like the solar panels we were just discussing in previous questions. When I had my solar panels installed 12 years ago, they were extremely expensive and had a very long return, although they have finally returned on that; they are now much cheaper. I think we are seeing the same process with air source heat pumps. I note that two suppliers, Octopus and British Gas, have announced £3,000 and £2,500 air source heat pumps—after the Government £5,000, I should say—which means they start to become within reach of ordinary boilers. There is clearly much more to do, but I absolutely share the right hon. Member’s enthusiasm for them.

Onshore Wind Farms

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. Since 2015, 10 onshore wind projects totalling 30 MW have been consented for development in England, of which three have become operational.

The Government’s onshore wind ban has raised bills for every family by £150 each. Keeping this ban in place would mean bills are £16 billion higher in 2030 compared with Labour’s plan to double onshore wind. Will the Secretary of State apologise for the dogma of his Government that has led to more imported gas and raised bills, with energy companies making record profits and families paying the price?

The hon. Gentleman is a very fine Member of this House, but I really would warn him against reading out the screeds produced by his party centre. In 2010, just 7% of our electricity came from renewables; it is now heading its way to half. Onshore wind has an important part to play, and we are looking at ways in which we can enable communities that do support onshore wind to go ahead and deliver it.

Alongside onshore wind, does my right hon. Friend agree with me that in this country we have a tremendous opportunity in front of us to seize first mover industrial advantage in the new floating offshore wind industry, particularly with respect to the Celtic sea? Does he agree with me that crucial to doing that, and to building domestic supply chains and domestic capability, is alignment of the Crown estate leasing process, the contract for difference and interventions such as freeports?

Tees Freeport: Net Zero

14. If he will have discussions with Cabinet colleagues on the potential contribution of the Tees freeport to meeting the UK’s net zero targets. (903797)

I continue to discuss with colleagues the contribution that all parts of the country can make to help meet the UK’s net zero targets, including freeports. I was delighted to visit last year and see the transformation being delivered by Mayor Houchen. For instance, SeAH Wind’s £400 million factory investment for offshore wind monopiles will sit alongside the £107 million South Bank Quay on the Tees.

Well, we will see what that transformation really brings. I am actually blocked out from any face-to-face briefings by the Tees Mayor, even from his social media, so I have to rely on news releases and third parties for information about the site, thus my question today. It is absolutely critical that the Government work across Whitehall to support this initiative and ensure that the benefits derived are delivered to the community with well-paid jobs in the net zero sector, not just profits for a few local businesspeople. Can the Minister confirm that, despite countless promises of 30,000 jobs, just one company has so far signed a contract to set up premises at the Tees freeport?

I have known the hon. Gentleman for a long time, so it is disappointing to hear his words. He is right to say that we need co-ordination across Government, including local government, and that is why it was particularly disappointing—and I hope the hon. Gentleman would condemn them—that Labour councillors voted against plans to bring £18 million of investment to Teesside. [Interruption.] They voted against the establishment of a new body that would bring £18 million of investment to Middlesbrough.

Hydrogen Sector: North-west England

16. What steps his Department is taking to support the development of the hydrogen sector in the north-west. (903799)

The Government are supporting hydrogen projects around the country, including in the north-west, with capital support from the £240 million net zero hydrogen fund, support through the hydrogen production business model and through the cluster sequencing process. As my hon. Friend is aware, HyNet North West is included in the track 1 cluster.

My Warrington South constituency is home to one of the largest aluminium can recycling plants in the UK. It takes used beverage cans and turns them into brand new cars. It is eager to transition its furnaces to hydrogen and is part of the HyNet carbon capture and storage programme. What Government support is available to major industrial manufacturers such as Novelis to help it to reduce its emissions?

The Government have a range of policies to incentivise and support industry to invest in innovative, clean technologies, including low-carbon hydrogen. Those include the £170 million industrial decarbonisation challenge, the £350 million industrial energy transformation fund, the £26 million industrial hydrogen accelerator and the £55 million industrial fuel switching competition. If my hon. Friend were to invite me, I would be delighted to visit Warrington to see that world-leading aluminium plant as it transitions to hydrogen.

Are the Government taking hydrogen seriously enough in the north-west and other regions? We have built a network of hydrogen filling stations for trucks across the UK and hydrogen has enormous potential. What is the Minister doing to work with our leading universities on the development of hydrogen energy?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The Government take the potential of hydrogen incredibly seriously and we are very positive about the benefits that hydrogen will bring to this country as we move towards a clean, green, renewable future. That is why we are working with BP, Equinor, Scottish Power, Octopus, RES and research institutions across the country to maximise the potential for hydrogen.

Topical Questions

T1. I congratulate my right hon. Friend—[Interruption.] Oh sorry, question 1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (903808)

I know my right hon. Friend is new to this House. This winter, as I mentioned, the Government have been paying half the energy bills of most British households. In these difficult times, that has been an extraordinary intervention that we are all very proud of. But it has taught us a valuable lesson—we can never again be held to ransom by energy tyranny. That is why we want to have the cheapest wholesale electricity in Europe, to be on a path to net zero, and to put Putin and his ilk in a position where they can no longer have any sway over our energy security.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his continuing commitment to Great British Nuclear, but is it not vital that we reaffirm the target of 24 gigawatts by 2050 and that we accelerate the tech selection process, so that small modular reactors, whether made by Rolls-Royce or anybody else—it would be wonderful if they came from this country—are on contract with Great British Nuclear by the end of the year, so we can get back to the nuclear tradition that this country once had and undo the baleful, luddite, “Atomkraft? Nein, danke” legacy of the Labour party? [Interruption.]

Order. I have the greatest respect, but these are Topicals and I want to get everybody else in as well. And I agree—nuclear reactors from Lancashire could be fantastic.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will know, as will the whole House, that every single nuclear reactor currently operational in the UK was given permission under the Conservative party. He is right to champion Great British Nuclear and we will get the nuclear industry going again. Indeed, I was the first Energy Secretary to put money—£700 million—into nuclear power since 1986. I have appointed our first ever—

Order. It is the same for the Secretary of State. It is everybody’s questions, not just yours and the former Prime Minister’s. Let’s go to Ed Miliband for a good example of a quick question.

It is important to welcome ex-party leaders to their place, Mr Speaker. My only advice is that it is important to not want your old job back.

Can I ask the Secretary of State to tell the House which member of the new Department’s ministerial team in April last year described onshore wind farms as “an eyesore” on the hills?

I was just having a debate about whether it was me or my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), the Under-Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero. The point is that they have to be done with local consent. That is why a proper energy mix that includes not just wind farms but nuclear for about a quarter of our energy production is so important and why we have just appointed the first ever nuclear Minister, who some are calling “Atomic Bowie”.

The problem is that the right hon. Gentleman is not the cheerleader for clean energy; he is the roadblock. We have had three wind farms in the last eight years. His own Department says 79% of the public support onshore wind. Let me ask him, plan and simple: will he bring the local planning regime for onshore wind in line with all other infrastructure—yes or no?

The right hon. Gentleman calls me the roadblock, but perhaps he missed me saying that I was installing solar before it was fashionable to do so. I absolutely want more onshore and offshore wind in this country. We are ensuring that we are helping with that process, but it has to be with local consent.

T5. Safran Helicopter Engines in my constituency is a leader in developing sustainable aviation fuel use. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the changeover in departmental responsibilities will help such companies to progress? (903812)

My hon. Friend will be interested to hear that the Jet Zero Council, which I helped to co-establish, has already taken place since the departmental change. Indeed, on the first day in this job, I co-chaired the Jet Zero Council. We want to get to guilt-free flying that includes widescale use of sustainable aviation fuel.

T2. The Secretary of State did not answer the question earlier about compensation for vulnerable customers disconnected from prepayment meters. What is he going to do about it and will he promise that every single one of them will get compensation? (903809)

As I was trying to explain earlier, it is a work in progress. We will make sure that those who suffered are recompensed. What happened was indeed a scandal. I could not have acted faster in this job to fix it and I described the three different parts of activity I undertook, which brought it under control.

T8. Offshore wind is a great British success story, but fiscal and regulatory action is urgently required if the UK is to remain an attractive place to invest. Can my right hon. Friend thus confirm that, ahead of the Budget, he is working with the Treasury to introduce new tax incentives and to reform capital allowances so that the UK can compete with other countries, such as the US and those in the EU? (903815)

I am sure my hon. Friend is as delighted as I am that the United States and the EU are now following our lead in developing renewables, including offshore wind. We work closely with the Chancellor to ensure that the UK remains, as it has been consistently under this Government, the best place in the world in which to invest in offshore wind.

T3. The Rosebank oilfield in Scotland is the largest undeveloped oil and gas site in the UK. It is set to unleash 200 million tonnes of carbon emissions—the equivalent of the emissions of the 28 lowest-income nations across the world. It is marine-wrecking and climate-wrecking. Will the Government put a stop to it? (903810)

Seventy-seven per cent. of our energy today comes from fossil fuels. We will be using about a quarter of the gas we do today in 2050 under net zero. The idea that importing that, with higher emissions attached to it, rather than producing our own, is ridiculous environmentally, ridiculous economically and ridiculous in terms of maintaining the skills in the North sea that we are going to need for the transition, with hydrogen, carbon capture and other industries coming forward. I ask the Labour party to change its mind.

I have been hearing from Hillingdon Council and Harrow Council about their ambitious plans to improve my constituents’ access to electric vehicle charging. Does my hon. Friend agree that it should be a higher priority for the Mayor of London to improve access to environmentally friendly transport, rather than imposing a ULEZ?

I could not agree more. Frankly, if the Labour Mayor of London were to focus more on that, rather than imposing yet another tax on the hard-working people of outer London, he might actually not be failing this great capital and its people as much as he is, unlike the two Conservative councils that are acting positively to increase the availability of and accessibility to electric vehicle charging points across the region.

T6. I listened carefully to what the Secretary of State said about prepayment meters. Could he confirm that forced installations will not go ahead until the penalty on prepayment meters has been abolished— yes or no? (903813)

There has been a long-term difference in the price of prepayment meters, which I specifically asked Ofgem to look at. I am meeting the Ofgem CEO to discuss its response shortly.

The Minister will be aware that aspects of the tourism and hospitality industry, such as catering and leisure, are intensive energy users. Therefore, can he confirm that they will qualify for support under the energy and trade-intensive industries scheme due to be in place from April?

I thank my hon. Friend for his tireless work to support the hospitality and tourism sector across his constituency. The energy bill relief scheme has provided much-needed support for high energy costs over winter. We continue to work closely with the sector.

T7. Many families in my constituency who are terrified about their increasing energy bills cannot simply turn down the heat come 1 April. They include families with disabled children, whose winter payment will long since have been spent. Why do the Government think that it is acceptable for energy companies to continue to rake in sky-high profits, while families on low incomes with disabled children continue to struggle? (903814)

I sometimes worry that some Opposition Members do not properly set the context. The reason that we are paying sky-high bills is that Putin invaded a democratic neighbour, which pushed up energy bills. This Government have stood by the public by paying half of everyone’s energy bills. Judge us by our record. We will say more shortly.

Could my right hon. Friend include fertiliser manufacturers, such as Neatcrown Corwen Ltd in my constituency, in the Government’s support for high, intensive energy businesses?

Yes. Representing a rural constituency myself, I understand just how important fertiliser manufacturers are. The energy bill discount scheme will start on 1 April, providing eligible businesses with a discount on high energy bills until 31 March 2024. The list of eligible sectors has been published, and I am delighted to confirm that it will include manufacturers of fertilisers and nitrogen compounds.

T9.   Last summer, I attended the opening of Infarm, a vertical farm facility in Bedford, focusing on locally grown food to help us to improve our domestic food security and to reduce our carbon footprint. Within six months, the company announced that it was closing, citing energy prices, supply chains and the rising cost of materials. Given the empty shelves in our supermarkets, what action is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that businesses that are trying to ensure our food security can operate? (903816)

I am afraid the hon. Gentleman has not been listening to what we have been saying for the past hour. We are determined to ensure that we move towards net zero in a sensible and measured way, leading the world as we do so while ensuring food security across the country.

Contracts for difference have been successful in driving down the cost of renewable energies. However, industry bodies and developers are warning that the draft strike prices for allocation round 5 are too low. Can my right hon. Friend commit to a review of strike prices to ensure that the allocation round is a success for renewable energy technologies such as floating offshore wind?

It is worth reminding the House that contracts for difference has been a world-beating way of creating the world’s second, third and fourth largest offshore wind farms. There have been some pressures on the previous round, due to inflation because of the war. We will keep the next round in mind.

Can the Secretary of State confirm whether the responsibility for industrial decarbonisation rests with his Department or the Department for Business and Trade?

As with everything in government, we share responsibilities. The clue is in the name—the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero.

I welcome the Government’s inclusion of seafood processing in the energy bills discount scheme, which replaces the EBRS at the end of this month. Before the energy crisis, there was the energy-intensive industries extension scheme, which included poultry, pork and milled grain processing, but not seafood. Would my right hon. Friend or one of his Ministers agree to meet me and representatives from the sector to help to address the shortfall?

My hon. Friend will know that the energy-intensive industries discount of 80% has helped many very energy-intensive industries this winter. We have consulted on raising it to 100%, along with other amendments. I will be pleased to ensure that my hon. Friend has the appropriate meeting to discuss the matter.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the additional tax revenues that have come to the Treasury in recent months. Will he have discussions with the Chancellor to ensure that small businesses in particular, which face very high energy costs, remain as competitive as possible in the current environment?

It is absolutely right that our businesses need to compete globally. Again, Putin is the reason for these high energy costs. We have stepped in to support families. The money has to come from somewhere; our answer has been the oil and gas companies, but of course we need to make sure that the balance is right with the taxpayer as well. The hon. Gentleman can be assured that we are working on it with the Chancellor all the time.

Knauf, a major manufacturer based in Immingham, seeks to build a hydrogen-ready combined heat and power plant to reduce its emissions. The project may stall, however, because Northern Powergrid has told Knauf that it cannot provide a connection until 2031. Could the Minister intervene and try to overcome the problem?

Yes, I would be happy to intervene. I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend and the company concerned to see what we can do to resolve the issue.

As the proud host venue of COP26, the Scottish Event Campus in my constituency well understands the challenges of reaching net zero, but like many businesses in the events sector, it is facing astronomical energy bills. Would a Minister be willing to meet the Scottish Event Campus to discuss those bills and its ambitious plans for reaching net zero through investment in the campus?

I would be absolutely delighted to meet the hon. Lady and the Scottish Event Campus. We are doing everything we can to support businesses that are struggling with energy bills at the moment. It is just a shame that, as a result of the Scottish Government cutting local authority budgets north of the border, Glasgow City Council will not be able to do as much as it would like to support the Scottish Event Campus as we move forward.

Leisure centres such as Kidsgrove Sports Centre, and particularly those that have swimming pools, are feeling very nervous about the end of the energy support that they are receiving today. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Treasury to ensure that support continues so we do not lose these community assets?

I understand the concerns of all consumers dealing with high energy costs, but we have given over £7.2 billion towards this, and we will continue to do so.

In its progress report last June, the Climate Change Committee noted that only about 40% of the Government’s plans for getting to net zero were credible. In some areas, including farming and industrial electrification, they had no plans at all. What are the Government doing to develop credible plans in those areas?

We are under a legal duty to ensure that we move to net zero, and I am delighted that we are continuing to make progress. The hon. Lady will see announcements from the Government by the end of March on our net zero plans.

Domestic heating generates 14% of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions, but blending natural gas with just 20% hydrogen would be the equivalent of taking 2.5 million cars off the road. We are already lagging behind Germany, France and Chile, which have decided to blend up to 20%, while Italy, Canada and Australia are close behind. Can the Minister assure me that the Government’s decision on blending hydrogen in our gas network will be a positive one so that we can stop tailing our European counterparts?

A plethora of announcements, on a number of issues, will be coming out of the Department in the coming weeks. Hydrogen is an important area in which we are a world leader; it is my intention, as I know it is my hon. Friend’s, to ensure that we remain in pole position.

Analysis by E3G has found that a third of the funding pledged for this Parliament to make buildings energy-efficient and to decarbonise heat has not been spent by the Government. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that that money is allocated and spent, and that leaky buildings are addressed swiftly?

As I said at the beginning of questions, we are working continuously to try to upgrade all buildings in this country, both domestic and non-domestic. We have a range of programmes; I will write to the hon. Lady with the full set of programmes that apply in non-domestic situations.

Does the Secretary of State, and do the Government, agree that leisure centres are critical to all our communities, and especially to young people? I understand that the cost of the energy for heating pools is hitting even the Prime Minister, with his very large pool in north Yorkshire. May we have some emergency action to help communities with energy bills that are likely to bankrupt them?

The energy support that we have been providing, including through the energy bills discount scheme, is designed to do exactly that, but we will keep a close eye on it to make sure that it helps in the right places. We are all suffering as a result of high energy costs. The reason is Putin, and we should never forget that while we build our own energy security in this country, with the cheapest wholesale electricity prices by the middle of the next decade.