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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 731: debated on Tuesday 18 April 2023

Energy Security and Net Zero

The Secretary of State was asked—

Energy Price Guarantee Extension

1. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the extension of the energy price guarantee on household energy bills. (904470)

The energy price guarantee has been extended at the same level for a further three months until the end of June. By then, the Government will have covered nearly half of a typical household’s energy bills during this winter, and a third to a half of business bills as well.[Official Report, 12 June 2023, Vol. 734, c. 2MC.]

I welcome the Secretary of State and his entire team to their places in this important new Department. I thank him for his response, but does he agree that the best way to ensure the stability of energy prices long term is to develop our own sovereign supply, with technology such as small modular reactors, hydrogen and nuclear?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why we put £200 million into funding new hydrogen in the “Powering up Britain” document just a few weeks ago. He will know about Great British Nuclear. I intend that we launch a competition, pick a winner for that by the autumn and get on with it.

If the energy price guarantee is to come to an end in June, surely the logical next step is a social tariff. People have become used to social tariffs from their mobile phone providers and broadband. What is the Secretary of State doing to make sure energy companies introduce a social tariff to target support at the most vulnerable in society?

Just to correct the record, it comes to an end in April 2024, so that guarantee remains in place. Wholesale prices in the meantime, fortunately, have been falling—I noticed that they are £98 per therm this morning. We do think that things like a social tariff could be very helpful and the Chancellor has undertaken to look at that as well.

It has made a huge difference to millions of families that the Government have been paying over a third of people’s energy bills, as part of a bigger package that is one of the most generous in Europe, but can the Minister assure us that the Government are doing everything possible to get inflation down and ensure that we have more sustainably priced energy in future?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. She mentions a third; in fact, we have been paying around a half of the typical household energy bill this winter, at huge cost. Fortunately, we have seen the wholesale prices fall, and we will start to see that reflected in the energy prices, although we have extended the guarantee—the £2,500. But she is absolutely right in her wider point: it is essential that we get to the cheapest, most plentiful electricity in Europe, and the “Powering up Britain” document aims to do precisely that.

One of the most effective and long-term ways of getting people’s energy bills down would be to invest in a comprehensive, street-by-street home insulation programme, which this Government are still failing to do. Research by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit shows that delays to legislating for minimum energy efficiency standards for the private rented sector could cost renters in the leakiest homes an additional £1 billion in higher bills, so with the Energy Bill making its way through the Commons later this year, will the Minister finally end the delay and ensure that those proposals, which the Government first started consulting about three years ago, are legislated for in that Bill?

Sometimes, we speak in this House as if we have not actually greened up any of our Victorian housing stock. In fact, back in 2010, only about 14% of houses in this country had A to C on their energy performance certificate; today, that figure is 47%. This year, we will have over half of our homes greened up. We are putting £12.5 billion-plus into it. So we are making rapid progress, which is sometimes not entirely reflected by Opposition parties.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Sixth Assessment Report

2. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published on 20 March 2023. (904471)

4. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published on 20 March 2023. (904473)

7. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published on 20 March 2023. (904476)

10. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the sixth assessment report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, published on 20 March 2023. (904479)

We welcome the IPCC’s latest report. It is a synthesis of global scientific understanding and concludes that, in 2019, carbon dioxide levels were at their highest point in 2 million years, that rapid changes have occurred and that this has led to widespread adverse effects. It does also say that deep, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would lead to a discernible slowdown in warming within 20 years, but risks are increasing with each increment of warming. That is why we need the rest of the world to follow this country’s lead in cutting emissions and committing, as this Government have done, to net zero by 2050.

We all know that the Government have been opposing onshore wind to appease the extreme views of their own Back Benchers, but the Secretary of State’s Department’s own polling says that, by 20 to one, people support onshore wind. Given the cost of living crisis and the price of gas, and with all that is at stake, how on earth can the Government justify acting in the interests of a very small minority?

We all remember that just 7% of our electricity came from renewables in 2010; it is now about half. Our largest single source of renewables is onshore wind. I am pleased to say that the Government are working hard to make sure that we come forward with proposals that have community support, because doing things with communities is what this party believes in; it is a pity that the other party does not believe it, too.

On 2 May 2019, this Parliament declared a climate emergency, yet four years on, the Government are still dragging their feet. Some 4.4 million people rent in the privately rented sector, and that number is going up due to the Government’s incompetence in building more homes. What will the Government do to bring all privately rented properties up to an A, B or C rating as soon as humanly possible?

I agree with the hon. Lady on the importance of improving our housing stock. It is not only good for the environment but, just as importantly, it helps to reduce fuel poverty and supports families. That is why, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State just pointed out, we have made such impressive strides since the rather woeful situation we inherited: just 14% of homes were properly insulated in 2010—it is about half now. I agree with the hon. Lady that we need to go further and faster, and that is why we are spending that £12.5 billion and why we have set up a dedicated energy efficiency taskforce.

New analysis shows that, if the Government allow the Rosebank oilfield off the Shetland Islands to go ahead, it will blow the UK’s climate targets. Rosebank’s developers will get billions in tax breaks due to the deliberate loopholes that the Government have put in their windfall tax, but it will do nothing to lower people’s bills. The United Nations Secretary-General, the International Energy Agency and leading scientists are all saying there should be no new oil and gas, so is it not time for the Minister to rule out Rosebank?

I cannot comment on any specific measure, but what I can say is—the hon. Gentleman should recognise this—that we will be using oil and gas for decades to come as we move to net zero. It is estimated that we will require about a quarter of the gas we use today in 2050, and bringing it in from abroad in liquified natural gas tankers will simply mean much higher emissions than gas produced here, so it makes no sense. New licences will only go to slow the very fast decline we already have in North sea production; it will not see production overall increase. Even with continued exploration and development, oil and gas production is expected to decline in this country by 7% a year.

There are 23 clean steel projects across Europe, but none in the UK. Forty electric battery factories in Europe are planned to open by 2030, but only one is set for the UK. All the Government offered on their “green day” was weak re-announcements on carbon capture and storage and nuclear, and no new funding for decarbonising industry. British businesses are crying out for more support, so why are the Government failing in their duty to help industry to decarbonise?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for the greening of British steel, as it is at the base of UK manufacture. I am sure he welcomed the “Powering up Britain” proposals, which I presented to the House just before the recess. Our plans for £20 billion of investment in carbon capture and pushing forward with the £240 million fund for hydrogen are exactly the measures we need to decarbonise British industry, and we are global leaders in that respect.

I am sure the Minister will agree that one of the best ways we can contribute to achieving the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change targets is through outstandingly good British Arctic science and polar science in general, as we have through 78 universities and the British Antarctic Survey itself. Does not the Minister agree that it was disappointing, when the Environmental Audit Committee visited the Arctic over the Easter recess, that we found that the British base up there, 400 miles from the north pole, is only manned part-time? Perhaps I should say “only personned” these days. Is it not time that we had a permanent research base at Ny-Ålesund in the far north of Svalbard?

I do not believe this strictly comes under my portfolio, but my hon. Friend has, as ever, brilliantly put this matter on the record and I will ensure others on the Treasury Bench are aware of the remarks he has made.

Energy Bill Relief Scheme

The Government’s assessment of the energy bill relief scheme shows we have spent over £5 billion to date—that is around £35 million a day to help businesses, charities and public sector organisations to pay around half of their wholesale energy costs this winter. This support has been unprecedented in nature, demonstrating that this Government are always on the side of business.

Linda from the Kitchen Croxley recently wrote to me about rising costs:

“I have spent nights awake imagining solutions…it would be so easy to give up… But my commitment to our customers and community remain so strong that I cannot do this”.

What is the Minister doing to support hard-working people such as Linda with their energy bills, so that she and other small businesses keep their doors open to customers?

I applaud the work my hon. Friend does to support businesses in his constituency such as the Kitchen Croxley. I understand times are tough for many small businesses, which is why the Government have implemented the energy bills discount scheme, to take effect until April 2024. Businesses fixed into more costly long-term contracts are more likely to receive the energy bills discount scheme payment support due to how the baseline discount is calculated.

An effective way to give consumers energy bill relief would be to stop energy companies seeking to increase direct debits while they are holding on to reasonable amounts of credit that belongs to consumers—money that they could use elsewhere. Can the Minister update us on what conversations she has had with Ofgem to ensure that it regulates for that practice, and will she support Members coming to the It’s Your Money campaign in Committee Room 11 at 2.30 this afternoon to show their support for getting that change?

That was an excellent plug by the hon. Member. He will know that I have been engaging with stakeholders—a whole range of stakeholders—including, of course, Ofgem.

A steelwork company in my constituency is very concerned that the constructional steelwork sector is not included in the list of industries eligible for higher support under the energy bill relief scheme, despite being a high energy usage business. Without this additional support, which would amount to over £75,000 for the company, it will inevitably have to pass on its additional costs to its customer, which is the Government. Will the Minister please review the eligibility criteria and consider adding the constructional steelwork sector to the list of eligible industries?

The energy bill relief scheme is expected to cost £7.3 billion over its duration. It provided a discount on the wholesale element of gas and electricity to ensure all businesses and non-domestic customers were protected from excessively high energy costs over the winter period. Of course, the EBDS will continue to provide a discount eligible to non-domestic customers, with a higher level of support provided under the energy-intensive industrial element of the scheme, which will be available to most energy and trade-intensive businesses, primarily in the manufacturing sector.

Our hospices provide tender, professional, essential care for people nearing the end of their lives, yet they are considered, when it comes to energy bill relief, as businesses. As a consequence, despite the fact that they have had a 350% increase in their energy costs, there is not a special programme or specialist scheme to assist them. I have raised this with the Minister before. What progress has she made in looking at a package to help to support our hospices and others who care for those in desperate need in our communities?

I thank the hon. Member for bringing up such an important subject. He will be pleased to know that this week I met Hospice UK to discuss that very subject and, indeed, I am working to see how we can be the most supportive.

Non-domestic Meter Customers

The new energy bills discount scheme will continue to support all eligible businesses and non-domestic customers with their energy bills from 1 April 2023 until 31 March 2024. This follows on from the unprecedented £7.3 billion expected to be delivered through the energy bill relief scheme over the course of the last winter.

Many residents of East Beach residential park are grateful that they can access the energy bill support scheme alternative fund, but what steps is the Department taking to contact and help those who are not aware of the benefits of these schemes to identify what they are?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the energy bill support scheme alternative funding, providing £400, and £600 in Northern Ireland, to households who do not have a domestic electricity supply and therefore have not received the main EBSS payment. It is up and running and I urge all Members to encourage their eligible constituents, including those in park homes, to apply via

British businesses pay among the highest energy bills anywhere in Europe, yet Make UK said the Government’s plan

“does little to tackle the real and immediate threat manufacturers face with rocketing energy bills.”

If the Government really wanted to support business, they would implement Labour’s plans, help small firms with energy efficiency, cut business rates and invest in renewable electricity generation for the long term.

Order. Mr Esterson, please do not take advantage of the Chamber; other colleagues want to get in as well. It is totally unfair

This Government have an unprecedented record in helping both domestic and non-domestic customers, and the energy bills discount scheme will continue to provide a discount to eligible non-domestic customers, with a higher level of support provided under the energy and trade-intensive industry element of the scheme.

Energy Efficiency Measures: Installation

6. How many and what proportion of homes had energy efficiency measures installed in (a) 2010 and (b) 2022. (904475)

21. How many and what proportion of homes had energy efficiency measures installed in (a) 2010 and (b) 2022. (904494)

The Government have made very good progress: 47% of homes in England have now reached the Government’s 2035 target of achieving EPC C levels, up from 14% in 2010—a 133.7% increase. In 2010, the Government supported the installation of around 968,100 measures. In 2022, the Government supported the installation of around 204,000 energy efficiency measures in around 94,500 households. Around 1 million homes will be upgraded with improved energy efficiency between now and 2026 through our help to heat schemes.

That is a very partial account of the story, I have to say. The Minister will know that in 2010 the Government inherited a functioning scheme from the Labour Government that meant hundreds and hundreds of homes in my constituency, and possibly his, were being insulated. Come forward 10 years and what do we see: that scheme has absolutely crashed, so can the Minister tell us just how much that decade of Tory failure has cost our constituents?

A decade of Tory failure? That is complete nonsense. We have had a 133.7% increase from 2010, when, by the way, we inherited a situation where only 14% of the country had EPC C levels. We are now at 47% and from 2010 to 2022 the Government supported the installation of around 8 million energy efficiency measures.

I know Front Benchers have already expressed their commitment to local communities and local people driving our economy forwards to a sustainable transition and future. With that in mind, may I point them to my own local authority, Norwich City Council, and its Goldsmith Street award-winning council housing—safe, secure, affordable homes that it has built on a shoestring budget after millions of pounds of cuts to its budget? What conversations have Ministers had with the Chancellor to ensure other councils can drive this programme forward to ensure every street is like Goldsmith Street?

We in this party and this Government support community-led initiatives just like the one the hon. Gentleman referenced and we are consulting on how we can further support community projects. I would be delighted to discuss that particular project with him in more detail in due course.

The energy efficiency taskforce is committed to driving forward energy efficiency measures throughout the United Kingdom and, on that measure, I would be delighted to meet with him if he has any further ideas on how we can go even further and faster to drive forward energy efficiency measures across the country.

I join my parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis), in congratulating Norwich City Council on what it has done in Goldsmith Street. Is the Minister aware of what proportion of self-commissioned homes have the highest energy rating? Is he aware that triple glazing is almost standard in self-commissioned homes? What is he doing to encourage the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to have more self-commissioned homes?

Before I go any further, I congratulate my hon. Friend on championing the self-build housing sector and that house building sector on doing what it can, moving so far and so fast, to improve energy efficiency measures across the buildings it has been producing over the past few years. Once again, as he is a subject matter expert, I would be delighted to meet him to discuss it in more detail in due course.

Renewable Energy Projects: Connection to the Grid

8. What assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of lead times for connecting renewable energy projects to the grid. (904477)

17. What assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of lead times for connecting renewable energy projects to the grid. (904489)

Reducing connection timescales is a high priority for the Government. We will publish a connections action plan in the summer, which will articulate actions by Government, Ofgem and network companies to accelerate network connections for renewable energy and other projects.

It is a disgrace that while energy prices rocket, huge delays to grid connections are holding back the supply of renewable energy to UK homes and businesses. Wind farms coming online today were approved when Gordon Brown was in power. Even now, energy companies are having to wait for 13 years, until 2036, for connections for some projects. How on earth did it get this bad? Is it not true that the Tories have taken their eye off the ball on the National Grid, and it is now costing British families and businesses dear?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. It is interesting that she references Gordon Brown, because it was under his Administration that the decision was taken not to invest in new nuclear, which, by the way, would have solved part of the problem we find ourselves in right now. However, I think everyone in the House would acknowledge that the situation regarding grid connection times is not acceptable. That is why we have commissioned the Electricity Networks Commissioner, Nick Winser, to submit recommendations to the Government on how we accelerate delivery of network infrastructure. He will publish his report in June.

The Minister completely failed to answer the question. The CEO of Solar Energy UK has said that solar infrastructure projects are being delayed into the 2030s—15 years or more—meaning that operators will not connect them to the grid. Renewable energy is cheap and will help to bring down the current absurd energy prices. Are the Government purposely trying to keep energy prices high and at the mercy of fossil fuels, firmly leading us on the highway to climate hell?

Frankly, that question is utterly ridiculous. It is because of the Government’s investment in new renewable technology that we are powering ahead and leading the world in reaching our net zero obligations. Half our energy now comes from renewable sources. I have already acknowledged that the delays to grid connections are completely unacceptable, which is precisely why we commissioned Nick Winser to develop his report. We will be publishing his recommendations in June.

Just to bring down the temperature a little bit, the Minister referenced the Government’s consultation later this year on how the Government, with Ofgem, will drive forward investment in the grid. Is the Government’s vision for more investment in a system similar to what we have now? To what extent do they want to move towards a more decentralised system for renewable investment in the grid, so that local communities can invest their own efforts and resources in developing their own renewable energy?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. In March, we launched consultations on community benefits for transmission network infrastructure and on supporting the consenting process to revise energy national policy statements. We are also supporting a private Member’s Bill on alternative dispute resolution for compensation disputes over land.

The Minister will know that the east of England does a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to renewables; we are investing in turbines and offshore wind. But he will also know that local communities across the entire region are horrified by National Grid’s plans to build pylons across the entire region, which will connect and increase more energy supply. They favour an offshore grid. Can I ask the Minister directly: what is he doing to work with the local community to deliver that option?

The east of England does do a lot of heavy lifting for renewables—almost as much as the north-east of Scotland—but this is not a competition. I am delighted to inform my right hon. Friend that I am visiting East Anglia next week to meet communities in the area. Indeed, I met producers and manufacturers yesterday to see what they can do to mitigate the impact on her local community and other communities in the region.

If we are prevented from building renewable power in the first place, connection times become rather a moot point. Will the Minister explain why he has failed to lift the ban on onshore wind, despite the Government saying that it would be lifted by the end of April?

This Government are committed to onshore wind as a huge part of our renewable energy mix—14 GW, in fact. We are also committed to new renewables offshore and to new nuclear, which the Labour party opposed for such a long time. It will be a whole collection of those new technologies and infrastructure projects that will help us drive our way towards our net zero ambitions and the cleanest and cheapest electricity in Europe.

That wasn’t very good, was it? The Government’s own offshore wind champion Tim Pick said last week that we will miss our 2030 offshore wind ambitions by more than 10 GW because of poor grid connections. Even with the lifting of the onshore ban—if we believe the Minister—developers will not invest given the prospect of a 13-year delay in grid connection. When will the Minister commit to a speedy programme of grid capacity building, to give onshore and offshore wind a good chance of success?

As I said, this country is leading the way in investment in new renewable technology. We acknowledge that there are difficulties connecting to the grid, and we are investing in improving that. Nick Winser’s report is coming in June, which will give recommendations to Government on how to reduce the timescale for connecting those new projects to the grid. That is the focus of this Government, not playing politics. We are taking real decisions to benefit this country, to cut our carbon emissions and to reduce energy bills across the piece.

Energy Transition Projects in Scotland

We are supporting Scotland’s energy transition through the North sea transition deal. Additionally, 44 of the 161 projects awarded contracts for difference for renewable electricity are in Scotland. More recently, we have allocated £81.1 million of funding to 81 locations throughout Scotland—I have a list, but I will not go through them—as part of the £1 billion net zero innovation portfolio, from 2021 to 2025. Furthermore, we have committed to funding the Aberdeen energy transition zone by £27 million, and the global underwater hub aimed at diversification for the subsea sector by £6.5 million.

There was a lot to take in there. Recent positive noises around the Acorn carbon capture project near Peterhead are obviously welcome, albeit with the caveat that we have heard a lot of this before. Can the Minister confirm what funds track 2 projects will get and when Acorn funding will be confirmed, or at least when such announcements will be made? Does he agree that track 2 projects must proceed much faster than track 1, both because of the climate emergency and so that we can seize the opportunity to be world leaders in that technology?

The hon. Member is absolutely right that there was a lot to take in, because the UK Government are doing so much to support Scotland’s energy transition. On Acorn, he does not recognise that this Government have already invested £40 million of funding in the project—most notably, £31.3 million under the industrial decarbonisation challenge. I have the breakdown of the funding, if Mr Speaker will allow me: £31.3 million from the industrial decarbonisation challenge for onshore and offshore front-end engineering design studies; £9.3 million of innovation funding for CCS innovation and advancing CCS technology and hydro supply programmes; and £250,000 for the development of Storegga’s Dreamcatcher direct air capture plant. Track 2 has been announced—

I wish the Minister would slow his answers down—that was a bit of a blur. Just last week, Harbour Energy announced that it is cutting 350 highly skilled and valued jobs in Aberdeen, directly linking that to the poorly implemented energy profit levy. We warned many times that it would disproportionately affect Aberdeen and Scotland and, unfortunately, we have been proven right. Will the UK Government commit to matching the Scottish Government’s £500 million just transition fund, and protect our energy workers?

I am afraid I have to take all that with a massive pinch of salt. Now it turns out that the SNP is against a windfall tax on the oil and gas industry, when it had been campaigning for such a tax for weeks and weeks, months and months. We have introduced the energy profits levy to deal with the immediate crisis regarding energy bills, but we have built into that investment opportunities for companies to continue to innovate, create jobs and develop our offshore oil and gas fields, because we will be reliant on them as a transition fuel for many months to come. This Government are committed to jobs and opportunities in north-east Scotland, unlike the Scottish National party that would close it down tomorrow.

I am sure the Minister will be able to give me a short answer to this question. Does he agree with me that what transition in Scotland definitely does not involve is some knee-jerk shutting down of the oil and gas industry, especially given that liquid gas supplied by tankers has two and a half times the emissions of gas produced in the North sea?

Yes, I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. He is absolutely right on this issue. Indeed, shamefully, Scottish Government Minister Patrick Harvie, a member of the SNP’s partner in Government, the Green party, said that oil and gas workers in Aberdeen should simply get on their bikes and look for other jobs, instead of investing in the industry, which this Government are doing.

If we want a proper just transition and greater supply chain security, we need new manufacturing facilities for renewable energy components. Which suppliers and manufacturers has the Minister spoken to about creating new manufacturing facilities in Scotland? How many new Scottish manufacturing and renewable energy jobs do this Government intend to create?

We are absolutely committed to building a UK-based supply chain, and that includes, of course, new jobs in Scotland. I would be delighted to meet my Scottish Government counterparts and the hon. Gentleman to discuss how we can progress that further and faster. If we are going to have an even more successful renewable energy industry in this country, it is essential that we have a UK-based supply chain. That is what this Government are committed to achieving and, moving forward, I would be happy to work with anybody so that we can do that.

Obviously, I am happy to meet the Minister and work with him, but what I heard right there was that there is no plan for manufacturing jobs in Scotland, no plan to match fund the just transition fund, no answer to the job losses at Harbour Energy and no firm commitments on timescales for Acorn, and that the tidal stream funding has been halved. There is nothing happening to match the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States and the EU support packages. Is it not the case that at the moment just transition are simply warm words for this Government and that much more needs to be done?

Absolutely not. I have gone through in detail exactly what we are doing in Scotland. Indeed, his colleague, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) suggested that there was far too much in my initial answer to demonstrate what we are doing to support transition in Scotland. We will continue to do that, while championing jobs and opportunities across the whole United Kingdom, including in Scotland. That means investing in new technologies and renewables, and supporting our oil and gas industry as it transitions. All of that is possible because Scotland remains in the United Kingdom, which would not be the case if the hon. Gentleman had his way.

Clean Energy Technologies: Private Sector Investment

11. What steps he is taking to help increase private sector investment in clean energy technologies. (904480)

Our “Powering up Britain” plan seizes opportunities from our transition to a decarbonised energy system. Our policies, backed by billions of pounds of Government funding, will leverage around £100 billion of private investment and support up to 480,000 jobs in 2030. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of unlocking that private investment if we are to deliver our net zero ambitions.

One of the ways to ensure more private sector investment is to support UK companies to export to key markets. With that in mind, will the Minister update the House on any discussions between the UK and the US Governments on critical minerals? Is he confident that there will be an agreement between the UK and the US on critical minerals, allowing UK companies to gain access to the financial support available in the Inflation Reduction Act, on which other blocs such as the European Union are already doing deals?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. He shares my enthusiasm for leading the world in meeting our net zero challenge and, by doing so, developing technologies and then being able to export those solutions. He is right to highlight issues following the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States, and making sure that in the negotiations with the US and other partners, critical minerals and other issues are dealt with. We are engaging solidly and I know my right hon. Friend was in Japan only last week, talking to Secretary Kerry about that point.

In 2021, approximately 60,000 heat pumps were installed in the UK, compared with 1.5 million gas boilers. According to the European Heat Pump Association, we have the lowest number of heat pumps installed in the whole of Europe, relative to population. What more can the Government do to change that?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the decarbonisation of heat remains a major challenge and we need to do more. With the launch of “Powering up Britain”, on which I made a statement to the House just before the recess, we are using £30 million of Government money to leverage £300 million in private investment, but I agree that we need to do more to change the trajectory if we are to meet the target of 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028.

Since the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, clean energy companies have announced more than 100,000 new jobs in the US. Nearly 10 times more new jobs have been created there in the past seven months than in the UK’s green economy in the past seven years. British business wants a proper response to IRA, yet all we have had is the Secretary of State denouncing it as “dangerous”. Is not the biggest danger that of Britain being left behind in the global race as others speed ahead?

It is ironic that the hon. Lady says that. We have already set out the position: our energy efficiency figures have gone from 14% to about 50%, and our renewable electricity figures have gone from 7% to about 50%. The rest of the world, I am pleased to say, is playing catch-up.

It is playing catch-up. The Opposition do not believe in powering Britain from Britain, and they do not believe in supporting the record. The truth is that the UK has cut its emissions by more than any other major economy. Rather than hosing credits in the direction of businesses, we have a regulatory system that encourages investment.

That is just ridiculously complacent and out of touch. Only this weekend, it was reported that Britain’s only home-grown battery manufacturer is considering leaving the UK for the US, and it is not alone. The Government are absolutely at sea as to what Britain should do. They say simultaneously that IRA is dangerous, that we are doing it already and that the Chancellor will get around to responding to it in the autumn, more than a year after the Act passed. When will they realise that dogma, dither and delay are harming our country?

The truth is that the rest of the world is playing catch-up. Our regulatory systems—the contracts for difference, for instance—have entirely unlocked renewables in this country. We are continuing to accelerate that, for example with the grid, which is also an issue in the United States. We take our competitive situation extremely seriously and will continue to come forward with policies to ensure that we maintain our global leadership.

Families in Fuel Poverty

In 2022, an estimated 3.26 million households were in fuel poverty in England. The Government recognise how difficult the increase in fuel bills caused by Putin’s war in Ukraine has been for households across the country. That is why the Government have stepped in to provide unprecedented energy bill support to households this winter.

Will the Minister confirm when the energy bills discount scheme will be distributed to customers such as my vulnerable 81-year-old constituent Ann? Her bills have soared by more than 400% because she receives her energy via a communal system that is not protected by the same Ofgem energy price cap that applies to individual domestic consumers. Will the Minister confirm future bespoke support for heat network customers?

I reiterate that we have been giving unprecedented support to domestic and non-domestic customers throughout this incredibly difficult situation, and we are making sure that we review the situation on an ongoing basis.

At a time when many of my Slough constituents are struggling to pay their energy bills, oil and gas giants are raking in the windfalls of war, but the Prime Minister and his Government are too weak to stand up for the British people, and especially for the increasing number of households now living in fuel poverty. Energy efficiency measures are one of the best routes to tackling fuel poverty, but unfortunately not a penny of new money was announced in the Government’s relaunch just last month. Why is there such complacency when installation rates in 2020 were 20 times lower than in 2010?

It has been estimated that without the additional support, a further 350,000 households in England would have been in fuel poverty in 2022. Energy efficiency improvements remain the best way to tackle fuel poverty in the long term and contribute to long-term reductions in both energy bills and carbon emissions, in line with net zero.

One of my constituents and his partner have two young children, one of whom has a medical condition. In August last year, they were charged £778 for gas and electricity—18 times the bill of £43.15 from the previous February. My constituent is living in fuel poverty and struggling to feed his family. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that families requiring high energy usage medical equipment do not fall into fuel poverty?

I share the hon. Lady’s concern. I have been meeting various stakeholders, including representatives of citizens advice bureaux, to discuss how we can mitigate the situation, but I should add that we have been providing unprecedented support throughout.

Last year, Citizens Advice Newcastle saw a 229% increase in the number of people facing disconnection and needing help with energy top-up costs. While today’s announcement from Ofgem is welcome, it will still allow those who are deemed to be at medium risk—parents of children under five, pregnant women and those aged between 75 and 84—to be forced to have prepayment meters installed. What more will the Government do to ensure that vulnerable people will not be forced to have those meters installed and to face living without heat and light?

The abuse of prepayment meters in recent months has been disgraceful. We have demanded urgent action, and we welcome the code of practice announced today. As I have said, I have been meeting representatives of citizens advice bureaux across the country, and we are discussing how we can continue to provide the unprecedented support that we have already been giving.

Many of the people who are in fuel poverty live in park homes. Perhaps the Minister would be interested in meeting me, in my capacity as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on park homes. At a meeting of the APPG yesterday, considerable concern was expressed about the fact that the alternative funding scheme was not delivering for many park home residents because of anomalies and inflexibilities. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has written to the Minister’s Department about this, but has not yet received a response.

As I have said, I am always keen to meet stakeholders, and of course I should be happy to meet my hon. Friend.

Topical Questions

Since we last met, the Department has been active in, for instance, publishing the “Powering up Britain” document. In the last week, I have been in South Korea and Japan, where we negotiated with the G7 an update to the climate energy security plan, and a large number of our partner G7 countries expressed the view—not always recognised throughout the House—that this country leads when it comes to the green transition in energy.

Energy costs remain a major concern for many businesses. In particular, as has been recognised, the tying of electricity prices to the price of gas is raising energy prices to unnecessarily high levels, which is deterring investment in electrical technologies and forcing businesses to continue to invest in gas-powered technology. Will my right hon. Friend tell us when the decoupling of electricity and gas prices will actually happen?

This decoupling is a particularly complex matter, but we are absolutely into the detail of it. As my hon. Friend knows, the connection between electricity and gas prices is to do with the way in which the contracts have been written. We are conducting a review of the electricity market, and we are also looking at the way in which some of the existing standing costs are allocated between gas and electricity, with the aim of achieving precisely what my hon. Friend is after.

Today’s announcement on prepayment meters is simply not good enough. The new rules ban forced installations for only a very narrow group and do not do so for what is called the medium-risk group. I am reading from the document here. That group includes

“those with Alzheimer’s, clinical depression, learning difficulties, multiple sclerosis…the elderly up to age 85, the recently bereaved, and those with the youngest children.”

How has the Secretary of State allowed this to happen?

I think the House recognises that we have moved very fast on prepayment meters—[Interruption.] The same rules were in place when Labour was in power for 13 years. We are the ones—[Interruption.] I am reminded that the right hon. Gentleman probably set the rules in the first place, but I will have to fact check that for the record. We have taken a number of steps to relieve that pressure and I am pleased to see the Ofgem announcement today. We will keep this matter under review and go further if required.

What a completely hopeless answer. There is a high-risk group for whom a ban is being put in place and a medium-risk group for whom the Government are leaving this at the discretion of the energy companies, which is simply not good enough. Will the Secretary of State now instruct the regulator to keep the forced installation ban in place until he meets the promise he made—which is being broken today—to protect all vulnerable customers?

It is an Ofgem announcement today, which I welcome because I asked Ofgem to go away and come to a voluntary agreement. It is actual action that makes a difference. What the right hon. Gentleman needs to explain is how, if we did not have some sort of measure in place to allow people to install meters to manage those finances, he would deal with all the additional cases that would end up in court. As ever, he gives simplistic answers in a complex world that I would not expect him to even start to address.

T6. Potton island and Foulness island in the Rochford district would very much like to see onshore wind farms. What incentives can the Government bring forward when onshore wind comes back online? (904560)

The Government want communities to participate in and benefit from onshore wind proposals for their areas, and we will shortly issue a consultation on onshore wind partnerships in England to enable supportive communities hosting new onshore wind infrastructure to enjoy the benefits of doing so, exactly as my hon. Friend says, by getting developers to support local energy discounts, new community infrastructure projects and the like.

T2.   Energy-intensive businesses need Government support to transition to a low carbon economy, including the Vauxhall van plant in Luton South, yet last month’s “green day” saw only weak reannouncements on carbon capture and storage and nuclear, and no new money for industry. Can the Minister explain why the Government are failing to help our motor manufacturing industry to decarbonise? (904556)

We have announced an unprecedented £20 million investment in the development of carbon capture, utilisation and storage and a £185 million extension to the industrial energy transformation fund, and confirmed the first winners of the £240 million net zero hydrogen fund. In addition, this Government have provided more than £2 billion since 2013 to energy-intensive industries to make electricity costs more competitive.

T8. Maximising investment in renewables is vital to bringing new jobs to coastal communities such as Lowestoft. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend confirmed that he is working closely with the Treasury to prepare a comprehensive fiscal strategy that will form part of the autumn statement, and that it will include tax incentives, the reform of capital allowances and measures to unlock private investment in ports. (904562)

My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that we always work closely with our Treasury colleagues. We launched the floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme—FLOWMIS—on 30 March, which is worth up to £160 million and will support investment in port infrastructure precisely to unlock floating offshore wind investment and deployment. The spring Budget set out the Government’s plans to launch the refocused investment zones programme to catalyse 12 high-potential growth clusters across the UK.

T3. The Under-Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, the hon. Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway) has just mentioned the Government’s ambitious plans for CCUS. The Petra Nova carbon capture facility in the US was meant to reduce carbon emissions by 90%, but it achieved only 7% over three years and allowed the continued extraction of fossil fuels. What will he do to ensure that UK Government investment in CCUS goes only to truly net zero projects? (904557)

The hon. Lady is right to highlight the technical challenges. The Labour Government said in 2003 that CCUS implementation was urgent. No one thinks there is a route to 2050 without CCUS and, as she says, it is important not only that we make the investments we are making, but that we do so in a way that is compatible with the highest possible capture percentage.

The Government’s commitment to park home payments is welcome, but residents in Eastleigh are still awaiting their payments because the council says it does not have access to Government systems. Will the Minister make sure her officials speak to Eastleigh Borough Council today to get this sorted? Will she commit to writing to let me know what has gone wrong so that we can get my constituents the payments they need?

All the councils that are able to participate in the scheme have received the money from the Government, with 99% of local authorities onboarded so far. Ninety five per cent. of councils are processing claims, with the majority of applications having been accepted and paid. However, we are working to understand the specific problem in Eastleigh, and I will update my hon. Friend as soon as I can.

T5. The experience of my constituents who are on prepayment meters is atrocious, and today’s announcement from Ofcom will do absolutely nothing to protect vulnerable groups such as those with Alzheimer’s, the under-fives and those who are over 75 but under 85. Will the Secretary of State answer the question he did not answer earlier, and say why he is not protecting the vulnerable from prepayment meters and the lack of energy support? (904559)

Just to correct the record, Ofgem is in charge. The measures it put out today, with industry agreement, will help to protect people. When a person’s payments are in deficit, they have to find a way out. The hon. Lady appears to favour a system in which, rather than installing a prepayment meter, people are immediately taken to court, which I do not think is a good solution. We will carry on working with Ofgem to make sure we put the best solutions in place.

Ministers will be aware that the Humber region has attracted £15 billion of private sector investment in carbon capture projects. Needless to say, there was widespread disappointment when none of those projects was included in track 1. Is the Minister able to give the clarity that the private sector needs?

My hon. Friend is right about the possibilities for CCUS. The £20 billion fund was competitive, and others, including HyNet on the east coast, won. When it comes to the Humber cluster, both the track 1 expansion and track 2 will happen later this year.

T7. British industry has supplied small modular nuclear reactors to the Royal Navy for more than 60 years, giving us a head start on the exciting commercial application of this zero carbon energy technology. Why is the Minister undermining and delaying its progress by going through an unnecessary so-called international competition, rather than backing British engineering excellence and British workers? (904561)

That is a brilliant question. What happened during all those years when the Labour party was against civil nuclear power? This Government are moving ahead, and we have set up Great British Nuclear and funded Rolls-Royce with £210 million and counting. I have already said from this Dispatch Box that we are starting a competition now to select a winner in the autumn. Where were Labour Members when we were doing all this?

I have already met the Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero to discuss the National Fire Chiefs Council’s concerns about the use of lithium-ion storage facilities to get renewable energy to the grid. Will the Government review existing fire and environment regulations to ensure they reflect these deep concerns and risks, and help to ensure that renewable energy can get to the grid smoothly and in a timely manner?

Grid-scale lithium-ion battery energy storage systems are covered by a robust regulatory framework, which requires manufacturers to ensure that products are safe before they are placed on the market, that they are installed correctly and that any safety issues found after products are on the market are dealt with. I am meeting my right hon. Friend this week to discuss this in more detail and I look forward to that very much.

T9. The Minister must surely recognise that fuel poverty cannot be solved by threatening to send vulnerable people to court or imposing the installation of smart meters. When will he stop passing the blame to Ofgem? When will he really start to support vulnerable people who are facing fuel poverty? (904563)

It is incredibly important to this Government that we support vulnerable people. We are looking at all of the issues around prepayment meters, but we have provided £400 of support through vouchers and I encourage all Members to ask their constituents to come forward to get those if they have not already collected them.

In Rugby, we are proud of the rate at which we provide new homes. I recently visited Barratt Homes’ Ashlawn Gardens development, where I heard that intending purchasers of new homes now place an enormous priority on the size of their energy bills. Does the Minister agree that it is important for house builders to promote the thermal efficiency of their products?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend on that. This is why we set up the energy efficiency taskforce, to work with industry to make sure that we take forward a tremendously transformed situation from the appalling one in 2010 and accelerate and move forward even more quickly in the future.

More than once this morning those on the Government Benches have congratulated themselves on the home insulation figures, but those figures could and should have been so much more impressive, if, after 2015, this Government had not abandoned Liberal Democrat policies to invest in renewables and insulate homes. The impact of that on my constituents has been fuel poverty. This winter, they are struggling to heat their homes, with still expensive carbon fuels, and there is a growing incidence of mould. When will the Government recognise that emergency insulation is needed?

We have worked very hard on making sure that homes are insulated. We have just announced another £1 billion for the Great British insulation campaign, which makes £12.5 billion over this Parliament and into the next one for insulation. That is one reason why nearly half of homes are now insulated, whereas the figure when Labour was in power was only 14%.

I welcome the £12 million from the social housing decarbonisation fund and the home upgrade grant for Darlington, which will help cut heating costs and carbon emissions, and reduce fuel poverty for my constituents. May I invite the Minister to visit the fantastic Darlington economic campus, where some of his team are situated?

I am very glad to hear about the successful funding bids in my hon. Friend’s constituency. These schemes will improve homes up and down the country, improving their energy efficiency and lowering energy bills. I am delighted to accept the invitation to visit the Darlington economic campus, although I can confirm that I have already visited it and was incredibly impressed by the calibre of the individuals working there to drive forward our ambition—

Minister, that is the last time you do that to me. Seriously, you are taking advantage of this Chamber too much. You were enjoying yourself earlier, which was fine, but I am not consistently having you dictate to the Chair. Do we understand each other?

With the Humber estuary responsible for 40% of all industrial emissions in this country, it beggars belief that it was not included in the track 1 for carbon capture. Will the Minister now guarantee that the Humber cluster will be included in the expansion that he just talked about, as it brings £15 billion-worth of private investment with it?

The right hon. Lady is absolutely right about the potential of the Humber cluster. I want to put that on the record, as well as the fact that track 1 and track 2 announcements will be made later this year. It is perhaps a testament to the amount of competition for carbon capture, usage and storage that this country has sufficient space to store 78 billion tonnes of carbon, which is the equivalent of about 200 years of all Europe’s carbon being stored in the North sea. There is just heavy competition for where it goes.