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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 733: debated on Tuesday 23 May 2023

Energy Security and Net Zero

The Secretary of State was asked—

Nuclear Fusion: Energy Provision

1. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of developing nuclear fusion technology to provide energy. (905069)

6. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of developing nuclear fusion technology to provide energy. (905074)

10. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of developing nuclear fusion technology to provide energy. (905078)

14. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of developing nuclear fusion technology to provide energy. (905082)

As set out in the Government’s fusion strategy, the environmental and economic impact of fusion energy could be transformational. The Government’s programme aims to drive commercialisation of fusion energy by building a prototype fusion energy plant by 2040.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. When I was studying physics at university more than 40 years ago, fusion was a gleam in our professor’s eye. Now we have been able to achieve it, but the key is scalability. What effort is my right hon. Friend making to invest in the research and development that is required to bring this clean, cheap and green energy to fruition?

As my hon. Friend says, fusion has always been talked about as 20 years hence, but to speed that up we have invested £700 million in fusion in the spending review period. We are working to get the world’s first fusion power station connected to the grid by 2040, with works scheduled to start in 2032.

The north-west has long been home to a large number of jobs dependent on the nuclear sector. Does my right hon. Friend foresee the potential for future jobs in the north-west as we continue to develop nuclear fusion technology?

Yes, absolutely. Fusion technology could be fantastic for the north-west and part of a big jobs boost. The UK Atomic Energy Authority believes that around 4,500 suppliers will be involved in that, and many of them will be in the north-west.

With the West Burton spherical tokamak for energy production plan, we have the opportunity to further solidify the east midlands as the home of the UK nuclear sector. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the economic benefits to the east midlands of that plant?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and the importance of that plant to the east midlands could be tremendous. The spherical tokamak for energy production—STEP—programme could support a large number of jobs. When I launched “Powering up Britain” with the Prime Minister at Culham, we stood next to the tokamak—the hottest place in the solar system. Some might think that that would be the sun, but it is 10 times hotter than the sun. To put that in context, that would be more than all the hot air from the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) in an entire year.

My right hon. Friend has answered all the questions that I was going to ask. What work is he doing with Manchester University—I have not told him that I was going to ask this—which is also doing research in that area?

I am going to have to riff this one, since that came out of the blue. The UK Atomic Energy Authority is working across the country, including with Manchester University. Its CEO, Sir Ian Chapman, is very proactive on this issue, and he hopes to work with Manchester University, and other institutions, to ensure that the coal-fired power station that was closed down at the end of March in West Burton is opened as a fusion power station connected to the grid. That will be done with the help of Manchester University and many other institutions.

Even nuclear fusion’s most ardent advocates admit that it will be decades before an operational power station is built. At the same time, I remind the Secretary of State that his own Government’s target for decarbonising the power sector is 2035, so nuclear fusion will be no help in meeting that target. Instead of wasting taxpayers’ money on yet another nuclear white elephant, why will the Secretary of State not fully harness the things that we know will work, which means an energy system based on renewables backed up with interconnectors, batteries and storage, unblocking onshore wind and unleashing a rooftop solar revolution? Why is he not doing that, which will make the transition much quicker and much cheaper?

Well, Mr Speaker, we are! When we came to power in 2010, just 7% of our electricity was coming from renewables. Right now, if I look at renewables plus nuclear—I know the hon. Lady does not like to look at nuclear—that figure was 57% in the last year. The idea that we should ignore technology and take that luddite approach to energy is not the energy security that this Government seek.

I have been a supporter of nuclear power and nuclear fusion in particular, and we in Northern Ireland want to take advantage of that, although we have been unable to do so until now. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland about nuclear technology and creating energy for rural farming, which is a massive industry not just in Northern Ireland but in my constituency of Strangford? We want to be part of this growth. How can that happen?

I firmly believe that all parts of the United Kingdom should be part of our nuclear revolution to ensure that we can get a quarter of our electricity from nuclear. Small modular reactors could be of tremendous interest in Northern Ireland, providing more localised power to individual communities which previously would not have been up for a gigawatt-style power station.

Energy Transition Projects: Scotland

We are supporting Scotland’s energy transition through the North sea transition deal. Additionally, 52 of the 178 projects awarded contracts for difference for renewable electricity are in Scotland. We are also supporting the clean technologies of the future with over £80 million-worth of funding through our net zero innovation portfolio to 81 locations within Scotland, including offshore wind, carbon capture, usage and storage, and hydrogen.

The SNP-led Scottish Government have continued to announce more support for energy transition in Scotland, this month pushing on with investment in green hydrogen that will deliver 5 GW of renewable and low-carbon hydrogen production by 2030. The Minister says that the UK Government are supporting that, but they are certainly not putting any money on the table up front as the Scottish Government have through their £500 million energy transition fund for the north-east of Scotland. When will the UK Government finally put their money where their mouth is and support the energy transition that Scotland desperately needs?

I thank the hon. Member for his predictable question. He was obviously not listening to the answer I gave to his first question: 52 of the 178 projects awarded contracts for difference are in Scotland, and we are also supporting green technologies to the value of £80 million. The fact is, the SNP cannot be trusted on energy and cannot be trusted to give us the facts. It is playing politics with people’s bills while we are delivering to support households, having paid half of an average household’s energy bills this past winter.

Energy transition projects affect the entire United Kingdom. I thank the Minister for his engagement with MPs across the east of England on the impact of 100 miles of pylons to connect new offshore renewables to the grid. Will he give my constituents an assurance that the Government are doing everything possible to look at an offshore grid for the east of England? Of course, that would also benefit the entire United Kingdom, including parts of Scotland.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. It was a great pleasure to be in East Anglia last week and to engage with community organisations and MPs from that part of the world. I confirm that all options are on the table as we look at what infrastructure we can and need to build to move us forward into our net zero future.

It is nearly 10 years since a £1 billion carrot was dangled for Peterhead carbon capture and storage, which was then withdrawn post-referendum. We are now getting told that the UK Government have £20 billion to spend on carbon capture and storage, but the reality is that not one penny of that is ringfenced for Scotland, and indeed there is not even a budget line for that £20 billion. Instead of another jam tomorrow pledge focusing on nuclear, why does the Minister, who comes from the north-east of Scotland, not focus on getting the Scottish cluster track 2 status so that it can get up and moving?

I thank the hon. Member for that question, but frankly I am fed up with the SNP talking Scotland down, and indeed talking the Acorn project down. The UK Government have already spent £40 million supporting the Acorn cluster, which is in a very good position as we proceed with track 2. It would be good if, for once, the SNP was to talk that up and work with us, rather than the opposite.

It would be good if the Minister gave us certainty instead of just blustering.

Energy UK has confirmed that the Brexit trading arrangements are adding more than £1 billion a year to our energy bills and, last year, nearly £5 billion was paid in constraint payments. That is all money that could have been used to upgrade the grid. It could have paid for pumped storage hydro that could have procured a greater level of our world-leading tidal stream technology. It could have funded the Acorn CCS or green hydrogen. Instead of adding £6 billion to our bills, will the Minister tell us how many Scottish jobs have been held back by this lack of investment?

When it comes to bluster, SNP Members are certainly subject matter experts. On support for Scottish billpayers, as I said, over the past winter this Government were paying half of everybody’s energy bills in this United Kingdom. [Interruption.] The hon. Member says that that is thanks to the North sea, but that is the very North sea industry that he and his partners in the Green party would close down tomorrow. This Government support the oil and gas industry for our whole UK moving forward.

Green Industries: Jobs

I am pleased to say that the green jobs delivery group is co-ordinating across Government to ensure we maximise the number of jobs in green sectors. The group has wide Government representation, including the Department for Education, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and includes members from Siemens, RenewableUK and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.

I thank the Minister for that response. He will know that South Yorkshire is fast becoming known for its green energy research. From Sheffield Hallam University’s Dext Heat Recovery project to the University of Sheffield’s Translational Energy Research Centre, there is huge potential in our region. Will the Minister look at what more he can do to work with and provide support to the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority, so that our region can become a world-leading energy innovation hub?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He is quite right to highlight the need for innovation and for keeping us at the cutting edge of science. We committed £4.2 billion to net zero research and innovation over the period from 2022 to 2025. Just last week it was my privilege to open, up in Blyth, the Digital, Autonomous and Robotics Engineering Centre. In his area, and all over the country, green jobs offer a tremendous opportunity.

Last year, I visited a home in Sydenham that has been fully retrofitted. Not only does that save bills and reduce emissions; it also creates jobs. This is something we could be rolling out now, yet the Government have spent less than 40% of the home upgrade funding pledged in 2019 to make homes more energy efficient. Will the Minister commit to actually making retrofitting a national priority, and support Labour’s plan to insulate 19 million homes by the end of this decade, creating thousands of jobs along the way?

I share the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm for improving the insulation and energy efficiency of buildings, including homes, around the country. As she will be aware, we have already transformed it for the better from the frankly dismal position in 2010, when 86% of homes—the legacy from the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) and the Labour party—were not properly insulated. By the end of this year that will be 50%, but I agree with her that we need to go further and faster, and ensure retrofitting wherever we can.

I recently had a meeting with Cranfield Aerospace Solutions, which is on track to certify a zero-emissions aircraft for passenger flight in 2026. The company is growing and has an ambition to reintroduce whole aircraft manufacturing to the UK, bringing in new jobs. The ATI—Aerospace Technology Institute—investment programme has been important in getting to this point, but, as they go beyond research and development, what more will the Government do to support ambitious companies such as Cranfield Aerospace and Hybrid Air Vehicles to manufacture the technology they have developed in Bedfordshire?

There are huge opportunities for our world-leading aerospace sector in the move towards sustainable aviation fuels. The Jet Zero Council helps to lead that work. We have set mandates to help drive take-up and ensure we are a world leader.

The Prime Minister before last, two years ago, told the country that Bridgend was going to be one of the great centres of battery manufacturing in this country, if not the world. Of course he meant Blyth, Mr Speaker, which is nowhere near Bridgend. Two years later, following the closure of the Ford factory, the people who worked in it for more than 40 years are still waiting for the UK Government to deliver on much-needed jobs across the M4 corridor. Will the Minister set out what support the Government will be offering and when they will deliver the long-anticipated battery plant for Bridgend?

What I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that the Government are working flat out to deliver that. I am looking to ensure that we strengthen the UK automotive industry as we move to zero-emissions vehicles.

Last Friday, I was fortunate enough to visit the outer Greater Gabbard wind farm array with my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin). We sailed right out among the wind turbines. The plan is to bring the power ashore in my constituency of Clacton, but that does not make sense to me. I do not understand why the power cannot be brought ashore to the decommissioned Bradwell nuclear power station on the Dengie peninsular—no need for more pylons or substations; upgrade what is there. Will the Minister ask National Grid why it is insisting on spoiling untouched beautiful countryside in the Tendring peninsular and putting more pylons across the Essex countryside?

I think there must be a lot of green jobs if you come that way. Try and answer that, Minister.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will ask the Minister who leads on networks, my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), to get in touch with my hon. Friend to discuss that further.

The Government’s plans for strengthening our energy security and reaching net zero have the potential to create tens of thousands of jobs in many of our communities. Does the Minister agree that the further education sector has a crucial role to play in unlocking new roles in engineering, technical and project management? The list goes on. Will he join me in commending Pembrokeshire College in my constituency, which is already working with floating offshore wind developers who are looking to bring new operations to the Celtic sea? They are showing the way forward in developing those new skills.

I congratulate Pembrokeshire College. It is so important to have the skills in place. That is what the green jobs delivery group is all about. Industry is working to make sure that we have the data on the forward expectations of need. That way, the Department for Education, through FE colleges and other institutions, can ensure that people have the right skills so that as much of the supply chain as possible for developing sectors such as floating offshore wind is here in the UK.

Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke are proud to be home to one of the largest European deep coalmine sites at Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, which has huge potential in geothermal. That is already being explored at Etruria. Will my hon. Friend meet me, Chatterley Whitfield Colliery Friends, Historic England and Stoke-on-Trent City Council, to see what green jobs can be created at that former colliery site, to bring it back into use with a green future?

I am being barracked by my Front-Bench colleagues, which is unusual even for me. I would be delighted to accept my hon. Friend’s kind offer.

Polluter Pays: Policy

4. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that its policies align with the polluter pays principle agreed at COP27. (905072)

I assume that the hon. Member is referring to the agreement at COP27 to establish funding arrangements for loss and damage under the Paris agreement. The main step that we are taking to help deliver that is the doubling of our climate finance to £11.6 billion between 2021-22 and 2025-26.

Glasgow has a strong link with Malawi, which is one of the countries that really feels the impact of climate change. The Minister is right to reference that loss and damage fund. Will he go a bit further, as I know Christian Aid would want? Will the UK use its seat on the UN committee to mobilise that funding for loss and damage and make sure that the commitments made at COP27 come good, and countries such as Malawi are not left behind in the fight to net zero?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that. Those on the frontline suffering the impact of climate change often have done least to contribute to it. It is important that we fulfil the pledges we have made, from Paris to the breakthrough agreement on loss and damage agreed at Sharm last year.

Fixed-term Energy Contracts: Hospitality Industry

5. What discussions he has had with Ofgem on the potential impact of fixed-term energy contracts on the hospitality industry. (905073)

I have had several discussions with the Ofgem CEO and suppliers on businesses and hospitality businesses on high fixed contracts. I am sympathetic to those businesses, but it is a commercial matter.

The Royal Oak in Isleworth is a popular family-run pub. Last autumn it had to sign a fixed-term contract at the highest rates. When I raised this issue in March, just before the end of the energy support scheme, the Minister told me that the Government had met energy suppliers, as the Minister has just confirmed. What else are the Government doing to make sure that no more pubs or other successful and thriving small businesses go under because of crippling energy costs?

This Government have been incredibly helpful to all businesses, particularly the hospitality sector. As I mentioned, I am sympathetic to those businesses, but this is a commercial matter. Let me reassure the hon. Lady that I have met stakeholders and suppliers. Today I have written to them again to reiterate that they must be mindful of fixed-term contracts.

No hotel, pub or guesthouse can do its job without the support of the laundry sector, which is feeling the pain of high energy bills, often fixed at the wrong time. I hear what the Minister says about the commercial element, but will she arrange a meeting with the energy efficiency unit and the laundry sector to see what can be done to reduce demand and get better deals from energy suppliers?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Of course, I am always delighted to organise those meetings.

Grid Capacity

The Government are working with Ofgem, network companies and others to increase network capacity. This includes Ofgem accelerating strategic transmission projects worth £20 billion and allowing £3.1 billion over the next five years for upgrades to the local distribution network.

I have been contacted by a number of businesses, mostly farms, that want to install renewable energy in the form of a solar array or a wind turbine, but have been advised that they will have to pay thousands of pounds to help to upgrade the grid in their area, making those projects unaffordable. Along with the commitment to phase out oil-fired boilers, that means that there will be huge demand on rural grid capacity. Will the Minister reassure me that he is taking steps to ensure rural networks will be able to cope with that surge in demand?

I am very happy to give the hon. Member that assurance. We are doing everything we can, working with Ofgem, companies, providers and other organisations, to ensure that the grid across the United Kingdom, but in particular in rural locations, where there will be a huge surge in demand, is able to cope and that people have fair and equitable access to that.

A few weeks ago, Knaresborough-based Harmony Energy opened the largest battery farm in Europe. What steps are being taken to allow grid capacity and connections for renewables and storage to be made much more quickly, so that projects such as Harmony’s can come on stream, deliver energy resilience and cut carbon emissions?

We will jointly publish a connections action plan with Ofgem in the summer, setting out actions by the Government, Ofgem and industry to accelerate connections and reform queue management systems. Network companies are already taking steps to free up network capacity and bring forward connections via shovel-ready renewable and storage projects, ahead of slower moving ones.

Will the Minister explain how, on his watch, things have got to such a wretched state with grid development? The grid apparently cannot now connect renewable energy plants to the system until after 2035, the date by which the Government say in the energy security strategy

“we will have decarbonised our electricity system”.

Presumably they envisage that system will be connected to the grid by that point. Has he been unaware that there is a serious problem, or was he aware, but did nothing about it?

My watch began only in February. However, I believe the United Kingdom is a victim of its own success, as this is what happens when new renewable electricity production is developed at such scale and pace. We understand the challenges facing the country and the grid. That is why we are meeting with Ofgem and have commissioned the Winser review, which we will publish in the summer. We are determined that we will meet that 2035 target.

The Minister says that some things are beginning to happen, but does he recognise in this context the figure of £30 billion, which is the investment the energy system operator considers is necessary to make the system fit for offshore wind and other renewables coming on to the system, not by 2035 but by 2030? Is he prepared to commit now to find that amount of investment, one way or another? If he cannot do that, how can we take his assurances on action at all seriously?

This Government are determined to face up to the challenges that we have. We have moved forward at such pace, having inherited a disgraceful situation in terms of how much renewable electricity was being produced under the last Labour Government. That is why the grid is facing such challenges today and why we have commissioned Nick Winser to produce a review in the summer to see how we can move much faster to achieve our goals. I would welcome the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party being more supportive, talking up this country and our success in developing renewable electricity, and working with us to tackle the challenges that he so rightly brings to the Floor of the House today.

Oil and Gas Exploration: Subsidies

The Government do not subsidise fossil fuels exploration, and support international efforts to eradicate inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and deliver net zero objectives. In addition, since 2021 no Government support has been provided to the sector overseas, including from UK Export Finance.

Really? At COP26 the UK signed up to a pledge to eliminate inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, but now the windfall tax has a super deduction loophole worth £11 billion to oil and gas companies—a benefit enjoyed by no other industry. That money could pay to insulate 4 million homes or build renewable power for millions of homes. This will not reduce bills, and it will drive a coach and horses through our climate commitments. Is it not a terrible way to spend public money as well as breaking our climate obligations?

Only for Labour Members—and perhaps some other people on the Opposition side of the House—is it possible to have a 75% tax on the sector, with the levy alone bringing in £25.9 billion between 2022-23 and 2027-28, and then talk about subsidy. Tens of billions of pounds come from the oil and gas sector in this country, and it provides energy security, keeps the lights on and keeps people warm. If the hon. Gentleman’s party were in power, it would cut off domestic supply, weaken energy security and slow down our transition. In every way, they get it wrong.

I think the Minister needs to look at the dictionary definition of “subsidy”. The approval of the Rosebank oilfield would be an astronomical waste of public money, handing £3.75 billion in subsidy to a Norwegian company in tax breaks and incentives without making any difference to British people’s bills. Does he accept that it will not create jobs or solve our energy security needs, and that it will be a backward step for climate targets as it pumps out carbon dioxide equivalent to running 56 coal-fired power stations a year?

Of course, we are a net importer of oil and gas and, if we do not produce domestic gas, for example, we will have more tankers—[Interruption.] We will have more tankers with higher emissions coming into this country. We will undermine a sector—[Interruption.] Oil, gas and renewables is effectively one sector—[Interruption.] It is very hard to get through my answer with all this enthusiastic barracking. It will undermine the energy security of this country if we do not produce oil and gas here while we are burning that. Thanks to the legislation of this Government, we can be confident that it is compatible with net zero because we have carbon budgets that are taking us there.

Rosebank is an oilfield and 80% of the fossil fuels produced will be exported. If what the Minister says is true, why has the Government’s own net zero tsar said that approving Rosebank would undermine our climate leadership on the world stage and “trash” our net zero pledge? Why are leading scientists warning that

“we already have more than enough coal, oil and gas to overshoot what is deemed our best hope of maintaining a liveable climate”?

Why is the Minister right and all the scientists wrong?

It is quite simple. We are reducing demand for fossil fuels, but we are net importers of them. Producing them here and destruction of demand have to be our focus and that is what the Government are doing. We are getting rid of the power stations burning coal. In 2012, nearly 40% of our electricity came from coal, the most polluting of fossil fuels—that was the legacy of the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband)—but by next year it will be zero. We have moved from 7% to well over 40% with renewables, as the Secretary of State has said. It is economic insanity for us not to produce the oil and gas that we will need for decades to come when we are a net importer.

Carbon Capture and Storage

9. What recent assessment he has made of the potential role of North sea oil and gas infrastructure in developing carbon capture and underground storage capacity. (905077)

North Sea oil and gas infrastructure can play a crucial role in lowering costs and speeding up deployment if it is repurposed for carbon capture and storage, therefore improving our energy security.

The Greensand project in Denmark has proven the concept of carbon capture, usage and storage, but we know that the supply chain in this country is fragile. Indeed, if others go ahead and develop CCUS, that is where they will go. Companies such as EnQuest in Shetland, which operates the Sullom Voe oil terminal, are keen to do exactly what the Secretary of State is talking about. Would he or the Energy Minister agree to meet me and the operators of EnQuest to hear what it needs to get that exciting project across the line for a final investment decision?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about this, but the UK is playing a leading role with its recent £20 billion investment in carbon capture, usage and storage. We have sufficient space to store potentially 78 billion tonnes of carbon under the North sea—equivalent, I am told, to the space occupied by over 15.5 billion well-fed elephants. I would be more than happy to meet him to discuss the potential of the field he mentioned.

Unlike the SNP, who continue to talk down the fantastic Acorn project, which by the way has never actually stopped—[Interruption.]. One of the reasons it has not stopped is because of the over £40 million invested by this Government in the Scottish cluster; £80 million was promised by the SNP but never delivered. What progress has been made to provide access to CO2 storage sites such as those in the North sea for industrial clusters without direct access to those sites by pipeline—for example, through shipping? What advantage can be taken of existing infrastructure at ports located near storage sites, such as Peterhead in my constituency?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the £40 million that the UK Government have already spent on the Acorn project. We have track 1 expansion later this year and track 2 will be announced later this year for CCUS. We look forward to further developments. He is also right to highlight the importance of the storage and transportation of carbon; in fact, it is a subject being considered today in the Committee on the Energy Bill. By the way, the largest Energy Bill that the House has ever considered is being passed by this Government.

We come to Question 11. Is anyone from the Government Front Bench going to bother? They are still thinking about the last question, but I would like a Minister to answer.

Low-carbon Industries: Investment

11. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the US Inflation Reduction Act on levels of investment in low-carbon industries. (905079)

Nearly £200 billion has been invested in low-carbon sectors since 2010, which is 50% higher than has been invested in the US as a share of GDP.

This is a global race and I fear that, with the US Inflation Reduction Act, we are being left behind. I am sure the Secretary of State will be aware of last week’s comments by Stellantis, which owns Vauxhall Ellesmere Port, about the need for urgent investment in the move to electric vehicle production. The Faraday Institution has reported that we need between five and 10 gigafactories in the UK to protect the automotive sector, and at the moment we have one, maybe two, coming on stream. How many does the Secretary of State think we need to save the automotive sector?

First, it is good news that the US has woken up to the need for this energy transition. I was in the US last week and they were pointing out to me that we had already spent £200 billion on this, with another £100 billion being leveraged in over the next six and half years to 2030. The point is we are ahead of the US, including on the transition to electric vehicles. The proportion of EVs sold in this country is way in excess of where the US is. By 2030, the US only hopes to get to 50%, whereas we will have ended the sale of pure petrol and diesel vehicles, so in fact we are ahead of the game.

The US has created almost 10 times more green jobs in the seven months since the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act than the UK has created in the past seven years. That is why British business is deeply worried. Frankly, the Secretary of State is all over the place on this, because his only significant response to IRA, passed last August, was to describe it as “dangerous”. Can he explain why IRA is dangerous? Is not the real danger to Britain a Government who are standing on the sidelines while others win the race for green jobs?

I take the opportunity to clear this up, because I have heard the right hon. Gentleman mention that quote several times. I actually said that aspects of the way in which some Senators passed the Act were in danger of being protectionist. He refuses to quote in full and he therefore misquotes.

As I discovered when I was in the US just last week, the reality is that the US does not have the world’s largest, second largest, third largest or fourth largest offshore wind farm. Do you know why, Mr Speaker? They are all being built here in the UK, where we are decades ahead.

That is exactly the kind of complacency that is costing jobs. Let us talk about offshore wind. The Kincardine floating wind farm, off the coast of Scotland, is indeed the largest in the world. Its foundations were made in Spain, its turbines were made in Rotterdam, where it was also assembled, and the finished product was simply towed into Scottish waters—jobs that could have come to Britain but did not because we have no industrial strategy and the Government refuse to invest in our ports. Is not the truth that we will never win the global race with this Government because they think that public investment in green industry to bring jobs to Britain is dangerous?

If there was a failure to develop the supply chain, I wonder whether it could have been anything to do with the former Energy Secretary, who only managed 7% of electricity coming from renewables in Labour’s 13 years in office. As I mentioned, we are coming up to 50% of electricity coming from renewables. It is worth mentioning that we had the world’s first floating offshore wind farm and the largest floating offshore wind farm. It is also worth mentioning that we have just invested £160 million through FLOWMIS—the floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme–and that we have just succeeded in getting a monopiles factory, which will produce up to half of the monopiles for future offshore wind factories.

Fixed-term Energy Contracts: SMEs

13. What steps his Department is taking to support small and medium-sized enterprises with fixed-term energy contracts. (905081)

18. What steps his Department is taking to support small and medium-sized enterprises on fixed-term energy contracts. (905088)

The energy bill discount scheme will continue to provide a discount to eligible non-domestic customers, including those on fixed-term contracts. I met energy suppliers in March to reiterate my expectation that they must do all they can to support businesses on the highest-priced contracts.

The Federation of Small Businesses has found that more than one in 10 small firms fixed their energy prices during the market peak last year, meaning that now 93,000 small businesses across these islands could be forced to downsize, restructure or close their doors altogether. Will the Minister support the FSB’s calls for action on this? It is unacceptable that businesses in Glasgow Central and beyond have been marooned on devastatingly high energy contracts.

One of the things this Government are committed to do is helping small businesses. Both the Secretary of State and I have met the FSB to discuss this matter and to ensure that we are doing the best thing that we can for those on fixed-term contracts.

That was rather a non-answer. Since the downgrading of the energy bill relief scheme to the mair austere energy bill discount scheme, firms, many of them in my constituency, are paying three to four times the amount they were for energy under the previous scheme. If the Minister does not believe the figures she has just heard from the FSB, how many firms does she think will go to the wall as a result of these higher energy costs?

This Government remain committed to supporting all small and medium businesses, and the whole business sector. We did the relief scheme and we now have the discount scheme as well. We are also implementing a high energy-intensive scheme. Both the Secretary of State and I are urging suppliers to have a look at these fixed rates and making sure that we can find a reasonable way forward.

Net Zero Goals: Local Authorities

15. What assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the potential barriers for local authorities in achieving net zero goals. (905085)

As a distinguished member of the Environmental Audit Committee, my hon. Friend has recently returned from the Arctic, where he saw the impacts of climate change. We recognise the importance of enabling local areas to play their part in delivering net zero. The net zero strategy and net zero growth plan set out our commitments on how we would help them to do exactly that.

Local authorities have an overwhelming role in achieving net zero, but in the last hour the National Audit Office has told my office that central Government have not developed overall expectations about local authority roles in achieving net zero. There is little consistency in local authority reporting on net zero, making it difficult to gauge achievements. Neither the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities nor the Treasury has assessed the totality of funding for local authorities to achieve net zero, with the nature of grant funding hindering value for money. So will the Minister carry out an analysis of local authority funding for net zero to inform the next comprehensive spending review, set up an appropriate review to assess the extent to which local authorities in practice have been able to use wider funding for economic growth and levelling up, and work with local authorities to assess the skills gap?

The Government invest £5 million a year in the local net zero hub programme. We have established the UK Infrastructure Bank, with an initial £12 billion of capital, for the twin goals of tackling climate change and levelling up, and it includes a specific loan facility for local government to deliver net zero. We are looking at other ways of enabling and encouraging local authorities to do more. The details of a devolution deal for retrofit pilots in Manchester and the west midlands will soon be worked out, and I look forward to that being pioneered.

One risk to net zero is the delay in grid connections. The Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee wrote to the Secretary of State recently to highlight the problem of speculative applications for connections. These are applications that do not yet have planning permission and many never get it, but are clogging up the queuing system. What can be done to fix that?

The right hon. Gentleman, as so often, is absolutely right; this is a real issue. We have Nick Winser working on the transmission system and he will report next month. On the distribution level, to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, we will be coming up with a connections plan later this year and working with Ofgem to make sure that we have a system that weeds out projects that are clogging up the system and yet will never be delivered, and make sure that the ones that can be delivered get to the front of the queue.

Fuel Poverty

In 2022 there were an estimated 3.26 million households—13.4%—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.

Recent figures show that energy companies such as Shell make £61,000 a minute. Meanwhile, there are families—13,255 families in Luton—living in fuel poverty. I also have pensioners in Luton suffering from chronic health conditions who are risking their health because they cannot afford to put on the heating. The Minister could take action on fuel prices by extending the windfall tax and closing loopholes, so why has she not done so? We do not want any more flim-flam answers. The public are not buying it, the people in Luton North are not buying it, and I am not buying it.

The Government have applied a levy on these energy companies, but the really important thing is the work that we have been doing with those households. We have been giving a lot of support and ensuring that we do the very best for all of those people. In addition, on Thursday 31 May we are launching our “Claim your energy voucher” day, and it is really important that all those on prepayment meters do claim their vouchers.

The Minister just mentioned the work that the Government have been doing, but the Environmental Audit Committee, in its report in January, criticised the Government’s energy efficiency target as “vague” and “unspecific”, saying that they had a poor record on energy efficiency. Meanwhile, 16.6% of households in Blackburn are in fuel poverty. Is the truth not that the pace of energy efficiency under this Government is too slow, and it is driving even more families into fuel poverty?

Just to reiterate, we have taken decisive action to protect customers this winter. We have paid around half a typical household’s energy bill. There are also multiple schemes in place targeted at the most in need, including the social housing decarbonisation fund, the home upgrade grant and the energy company obligation scheme.

Topical Questions

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 gov.uk.

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.