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Topical Questions

Volume 733: debated on Tuesday 23 May 2023

Last week, as I mentioned, I was in the US promoting Britain’s ambitious plans for renewables, nuclear and the incredible potential of carbon capture, usage and storage, which could be worth trillions to our economy. By forging those closer links, we are bringing down bills, safeguarding our energy and putting Putin’s energy blackmail and ransom on the back foot.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to seize the unique opportunity in Hartlepool by commissioning an advanced modular reactor for our soon-to-be decommissioned site, to secure jobs and skills and to make Teesside a world-leading area for green energy?

First, I am very pleased that the Hartlepool nuclear power station has had its lifetime extended to 2026. Secondly, my hon. Friend is absolutely right to be enthusiastic about advanced nuclear reactors and technologies, some of which have a little way to go yet, but they get full support from this Government, and we will support those coming into use when time allows.

T2. The Minister may be aware of a company called Green Energy Together, used by authorities up and down the country who have paid significant deposits. The company was wound up yesterday, leaving thousands of people across the country, including dozens of my constituents, out of pocket. Will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss this urgent crisis, as many people face significant losses? [R] (905095)

T5. There is no point reducing our emissions in the UK if we simply cause them to be produced elsewhere in the world by importing manufactured goods, often from countries where higher emissions may be embodied. A carbon border adjustment mechanism can allow for that, although here in the UK we are behind Europe, which already has a CBAM in place. What progress is being made to develop and implement a CBAM to address the risks of carbon leakage? (905098)

On 30 March the Government launched a consultation to explore potential measures on carbon leakage, including a carbon border adjustment mechanism, mandatory product standards and measures to grow the market for low-carbon products. The consultation closes on 22 June and I hope my hon. Friend will consider contributing to it. It is worth noting that full implementation of the EU CBAM will not begin until 2026.

T3. Tinmasters, an energy-intensive business in my constituency, was told it was not eligible for the energy bills discount scheme because it fixed its existing contract before December 2021. It has since had to sign a “blend and extend” contract, as it was the only option for survival. The Minister has spoken with me, but can she tell me what her Government are doing to ensure that suppliers who offer blend and extend contracts are being fair to their customers and how the Government can support those businesses not eligible for support because of an arbitrary date? (905096)

I thank the hon. Lady for the meeting we had to discuss the matter, which we are looking into. We must recognise that it is the suppliers and consumers who have entered into a contract. However, my strongest encouragement to suppliers is that they do all they can, and blend and extend is certainly one of the ways we can help on that.

T7. Does the Minister agree that rewiring energy markets through REMA, the review of electricity market arrangements, is the fastest and cheapest way to cut bills by uncoupling them from gas prices? Does he therefore agree that we should speed up and that bill payers would be best served by a Government White Paper on that before the summer recess? (905101)

I thank my hon. Friend for separately sharing his detailed thoughts on REMA and its reform. This is a complex area with multiple interrelated mechanisms; it requires careful consideration to unlock the £280 billion or perhaps £400 billion of investment in generation and flexible assets that could be needed by 2035. While I share his impatience and desire to move fast, it is more important still that we get it right. I aim to publish a second REMA consultation in the autumn, which will narrow the options for reform and detail the direction of travel.

T4. Directors at Ofgem are on the record as saying they are already doing everything that needs to be done to meet the country’s net zero targets. I do not know anyone outside Ofgem who sees that as anything other than dangerously complacent. Is it not now time for the Minister to give a direct mandate to Ofgem to include meeting net zero as part of its remit? (905097)

The Government have published a draft strategy and policy statement for energy policy that makes clear Ofgem’s role in promoting the UK’s net zero targets. However, we are considering the effect of an amendment made in the House of Lords to the Energy Bill currently going through this place on Ofgem’s statutory duties in relation to net zero.

Does the Minister agree that the way to get cheaper nuclear projects and cheaper electricity overall is to build a fleet of new nuclear reactors, starting at Wylfa in my constituency of Ynys Môn?

Yes, the Government agree that the way to cheaper energy bills and a more secure network is to build new nuclear projects. That is why we have launched Great British Nuclear, why we are working with communities and industry across the country, and why I would be delighted to visit Wylfa soon with my hon. Friend to see the potential that that site has to add to our energy security.

T6. Ofgem has stated that prepayment meters should not be fitted for anybody over the age of 85. In Glasgow, life expectancy is 76. Will the Minister look at increasing the range of people who are considered vulnerable under this? (905099)

The arrangements that we have for prepayment meters are incredibly important, and we are working closely with Ofgem to ensure that we tackle this issue. As always, I am happy to meet to discuss these issues.

Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda are charging more for road fuel in my constituency than they are in neighbouring towns. Can my right hon. Friend explain what he is doing to help my hard-working constituents secure cheaper fuel?

We share my hon. Friend’s concerns. That is why we asked the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate. It is doing an inquiry. It came up with an interim report in recent days, and it will come back with a full final report and recommendations for 7 July, addressing the very issue that my hon. Friend rightly brings to us.

T8. The Aston Grange energy project in my constituency, which intends to provide solar, has been told it cannot connect to the grid until 14 years from now, in 2037. What decisive action are the Government taking to intervene and speed things up? (905102)

I have already set out exactly what the Government are doing. We are working with Ofgem and others. We commissioned Nick Winser to provide a report on how we can speed up connection times and build our network to the position it needs to be in, but I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to speak about the specific project he has raised.

The House will be familiar with Wilkin & Sons in my constituency, which makes world-famous jam that I am sure everyone in the House has enjoyed. However, it faces significant increases in its energy costs because it is not eligible for the energy and trade intensive industries scheme, as its industry classification is not within the scope of the scheme. The code is 10.3, and it is for processing and preserving fruit and veg. Will the Minister look into that classification? There is an open invitation to come up to Wilkin & Sons.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that invite, and I would be delighted to go if some of the product was on offer. We are constantly looking at the help we can give. We are giving help across all industries. We are giving universal help through the discount, and we are helping energy and trade intensive industries as well. The classification exists to ensure that we do not have a bias.

T9. For seven long years, my SNP colleagues and I have fought for justice for victims of green deal mis-selling. A successful recent test case is now being appealed, and the resolution to this could take many more years. In the meantime, some of my constituents have died—most recently, a lovely woman by the name of May Young. We do not have to keep putting people through this; there is a political resolution. Will the Minister meet me to discuss that? (905103)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and her years of effort to support constituents in this respect. I would be delighted to meet her.

There has been lots of talk in the Chamber today about green jobs. When I talk to stakeholders in the renewable and low-carbon technology sector, they talk about the need for electrical technicians, mechanical technicians, engineers, instrumentation engineers and all kinds of skills that currently exist in the oil and gas industry. Will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging young people to consider a career in oil and gas, not just to meet the energy security demands of today but to develop the skills that will be much needed in the future?

When I recently visited Aberdeen, Inverness, Port of Nigg and Orkney in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), it struck me that nearly all—in fact, I think all—the companies I met were working across oil, gas and renewables. They are part of one system, whether it is fabrication, subsea engineering or any number of other things. In truth, our energy security is about oil, gas and renewables. We are reducing our use of fossil fuels, but producing it here at home is a noble career for people in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

In a few months’ time, there will be extra checks on food coming into the UK from Europe. That will require extra cold store capacity; it is being built, but the Cold Chain Federation tells me that there is a three-year to four-year wait for connection to the grid. What are the Government going to do to make sure those facilities are up and running in time?

Years of world-leading green investment has meant we have connected the second highest amount of renewable electricity in Europe since 2010. That has, of course, put pressure on the electricity network, and reducing connection timescales is a high priority for the Government, as I have already set out multiple times this afternoon.

A more rapid escalation towards net zero could be achieved by a significant increase in electric vehicle charging points, particularly in areas where there are very few, such as Portstewart and East Londonderry in my constituency. What meetings will the Minister have, and what pressure will he apply, to try to ensure that there is a significant increase between now and 2030?

As a former Transport Secretary, I can inform the hon. Gentleman that the UK has more fast charging per mile of road than any other major European economy, but we are always pushing to go further. In particular, we have a very large programme working with local authorities to install more capacity, particularly for the harder-to-reach roads.

At the moment, many people receive their domestic energy on a commercial contract, either via a landlord or because they live above a shop. This Government put in protections to support them, but they have now been lifted, and those people are of course ineligible for the Ofgem energy price cap. Will the Government review this situation to ensure those residential customers are treated with the residential protections they deserve?

This Government have a commitment to ensure that everybody is treated fairly, especially when it comes to the discounts and relief schemes. We have legislated to make sure that landlords pass on the payments they receive; if they do not, there is a way of redressing that by going through

ChargePoint, one of the largest UK charging networks, worries that the Government’s local EV infrastructure fund will replicate the mistakes of the past, where electric charge points were put into lamp posts and bollards where people with non-electric vehicles park, therefore losing valuable electric charging. Will the Government ensure that the LEVI fund is targeted at local authority assets such as swimming pools and libraries, where people will often go, therefore increasing EV charging capacity?

The hon. Lady makes a very good point: where charge points are blocked, they become useless for EVs. The LEVI scheme that she references is designed to try to help as many people as possible, and I will certainly ask my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary to take a closer look at the specific point she raises about those blockages.

Private jets, described as “incredibly carbon-intensive”, have been in the headlines. The recent Department for Transport-commissioned report suggests that the carbon footprint of private jets in the UK is on par with 200,000 people taking a return flight to Hong Kong, and calls for the number of private jet flights to be halved. Will the Secretary of State be having a word with his colleague the Foreign Secretary about that?

Private jets are in the headlines almost as much as motorhomes. The reality is that to solve this problem, we need sustainable aviation fuel in the shorter term, which is why the UK has one of the world’s leading targets: 10% of SAF in our energy mix for jets in just six and a half years’ time.

Some 13,450 energy bills support scheme vouchers have gone unclaimed in my constituency. Given the delays that many of my constituents have experienced in obtaining those vouchers and arguing the case with their energy companies, will the Minister push back the date by which they have to be redeemed, which is currently 30 June?

The hon. Member makes an incredibly important point, and gives me the opportunity to make plain that we must make sure all those vouchers are cashed in by 30 June. I encourage every single Member in this place to make sure that their constituents who are on prepayment meters and have not cashed in those vouchers do so.