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Topical Questions

Volume 743: debated on Tuesday 16 January 2024

The UK is the first major economy to halve its emissions. Since the Prime Minister’s speech in September, we have announced the £960 million green industries growth accelerator, helped to deliver the first global agreement to transition away from fossil fuels at COP28, acted to protect motorists from unfair prices at petrol stations, announced backing for 11 major projects to produce green hydrogen, and committed to the biggest nuclear expansion in 70 years. We have a plan. Our plan is working and it will get us to net zero. It will guarantee our energy security and bring consumers and the British people with us.

My constituents have told me they are no longer eligible to receive the warm home discount, which, along with Ofgem’s price increase, is making the cost of living even more severe in the City of Durham. Will the Minister meet me to discuss that? What, if any, discussions has he had with the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies) about the impact of fuel poverty on disabled people?

We are providing targeted support for the most vulnerable through the warm home discount. I am pleased to say that we have raised it to £150 and extended it so that it now reaches 3 million low-income households, giving them a rebate on their energy bills every winter.

T3. Kettering is one of the greenest constituencies in the country, because the wind turbines and solar panels in the constituency generate enough electricity to power all 45,000 homes. For the country as a whole, what percentage of our electricity was generated from renewables when the Conservatives came to power in 2010, and what is the percentage now? (900990)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He will be delighted to learn that renewable generation has increased fivefold from 2010 to 2022. It has gone from a risible 26 TWh to 135 TWh. Some 40 GW of renewable energy has connected to Great Britain’s electricity networks since 2010. Since 2010, the UK has seen a more than 500% increase in the amount of renewable electricity capacity in the grid thanks to this Conservative Government.

In the past month, the former Prime Minister who legislated for net zero has condemned the Minister’s oil and gas policy. His colleague the former COP President has accused the Government of “not being serious” and the Government’s net zero tsar has resigned his seat in disgust. Why does the Minister think that that is?

As we have rehearsed, the UK is the first major economy to halve its emissions. It is the one that is delivering more going forward. It is so important that we recognise that we will continue to need oil and gas for decades to come. The Labour party’s policy will do the opposite; it will weaken British jobs, reduce taxes and put up emissions, and that is why we remain committed, working across society, to ensuring that we deliver.

It is not just us who oppose the Minister’s Bill, but those on his own side—he has lost an MP over it. I know he brought down the last Government over fracking; he is trying to do it again with his new Bill. That is the reason that people have lost confidence. They see the hottest year on record and a Government backsliding on net zero. Is it not the truth that the Conservatives who know and care most about climate change no longer support this Government?

The right hon. Gentleman would love to think that was the case, but the Conservative party is united in driving this forward and in delivering. We are powering up Britain from Britain. We have taken ourselves from the abject position left by him when he was in government, which so many of my colleagues have described. We must not go back to that, because it would put bills up, it would put emissions up, and it would stop us being the global net zero leader that we are.

T4. The Prime Minister recently visited Bacton gas terminal in North Norfolk, which is home to a third of the UK’s gas supply and in the future could be an enormous hub for green energy production in the east of England. Will Ministers reassure me that they will continue to consider Bacton as the future home for carbon capture, usage and storage technology as well as a hydrogen hub for the future in the east of England? (900991)

I agree with my hon. Friend and the Prime Minister on the importance of Bacton, which, like all gas terminals across the country, has the potential to play a crucial role in our energy security. The decarbonisation of these terminals is vital to delivering both economic growth and net zero. The Hewett field, 20 km offshore from Bacton, was awarded a licence for carbon sea storage by the North Sea Transition Authority in 2023. I hear his loud voice—it will be heard on the Government Benches—about its potential to be a hydrogen hub as well.

T2. Data released last year suggests that Britain has one of the largest queues in Europe of wind and solar capacity waiting to be connected to the grid. Will the Minister provide an update on what steps the Department is taking to reduce those waiting times? (900989)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight that issue. At the autumn statement, we announced plans to halve the time it takes to build new critical powerlines as well as reducing average delays from five years to no more than six months. The connection action plan at the more local level will release more than 100 GW of capacity and give powers to the system operator to terminate stalled projects. We are seeking across multiple Departments—led by this one—to deal with the issues that she rightly raised.

T7. A&P Falmouth in my constituency has submitted an application to the Government for floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme funding in readiness to support the first floating offshore wind project in English waters. With Government support, it could supply electricity to 45,000 homes in Cornwall. The scheme is shovel-ready, pragmatic and deliverable, with huge support from local stakeholders as well as being vital to building the supply chain further in the south-west. Will my hon. Friend, alongside Department for Transport colleagues, carefully consider the application to help me deliver that for Cornwall, the south-west and the Celtic sea cluster? (900994)

It is incredibly encouraging to hear about what is happening at A&P Falmouth. As my hon. Friend knows, the floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme is providing up to £160 million to support investment in UK ports. However, while FLOWMIS is still live, I am afraid I cannot comment on individual applications.

T5.   More than 15% of families in my constituency live in fuel poverty, with a median energy efficiency score of just 65. How much of the 2019 general election manifesto pledge to spend £9.2 billion on improving energy efficiency has gone on retrofitting existing properties and not on new builds? (900992)

T10.   Many Chelmsford residents have already switched to electric vehicles. Those who live in houses with driveways pay just 5% VAT when they charge their cars at home, but those who live in terraced houses, who are often less well off, have to pay 20% VAT when they use a commercial charger. I fully understand that tax is a matter for the Treasury Ministers, but does my right hon. Friend agree that if we could level out this tax, we could make electric vehicles more affordable to all people and thus help with our transition towards a lower carbon economy? (900997)

As we make the transition, it is essential that we do so fairly, not least for those with less. We have committed to keeping the transition to electric vehicles affordable for consumers, and we support innovations for those without a home charger such as cross-pavement cable channels and peer-to-peer charging schemes. I know that my right hon. Friend will continue to raise the VAT issue. As she rightly said, all taxes, including VAT reliefs, are kept under review by the Chancellor.

T6. The hospitality sector is very important to Chester. Talking to the Chester business improvement district this morning, and following comments from chef Gary Usher, it is clear that the damaging impact of sky-high energy bills is still felt extremely significantly. What hope can the Minister offer hard-pressed restaurateurs in Chester and across the country? (900993)

I am aware of the challenges facing all the industry. I have ongoing talks with UKHospitality and other groups. There are things that we can do, such as blend and extend, and we are looking at the brokers, and ensuring that third-party intermediaries are doing their jobs correctly.

Driving down to Parliament, I pass petrol stations. In my constituency, prices were 136.9p and 137.9p. However, at the service stations, they were 164.9p and 167.9p. That is a massive difference, which the public just will not tolerate and want something to be done about it. What will the Government do?

Road fuel prices are down for a second consecutive month. Petrol prices are now at a level not seen since early October 2021, following our work to bring transparency to the market. Today, we launched the consultation to require petrol stations to report real-time prices, which will mean that drivers can compare prices and get the best deal, and prices will fall through greater competition.

T9. I am sorry to hear that the Secretary of State is ill, but could the Minister explain why she has taken money from Michael Hintze, funder of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, an organisation that peddles climate science denial? Does he think that is appropriate? (900996)

I apologise for the Secretary of State not being here. I will write to the hon. Lady promptly in answer to her question.

Transparency is important in the development of the energy sector. National Grid is refusing to publish its assessment of Bradwell as a potential landfall site for cables and interconnectors. It must be logical to prioritise brownfield sites with existing connections to the electricity network. Will my right hon. Friend please require National Grid to publish fully its assessment so far?

When my right hon. Friend thinks that something is important, she does not let it go. That message will go out clearly from this Chamber, and I will happily work with her to see whether we can find a resolution and give her the information and insight that she requires.

Following the recent state visit from the Korean President, when he identified nuclear as one of the key sectors for future collaboration in the UK-Korea trade deal, and the publication—albeit two years later than promised—of the civil nuclear road map last week, could the Minister please detail what conversations are taking place with the Department for Business and Trade to maximise inward investment opportunities for the nuclear supply chain in Warrington North and across the UK?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and for her support for our nuclear road map published last week. As she knows, we look forward to increasing the opportunities to co-operate with South Korea on civil nuclear, including on fuel supply chain safety, security, non-proliferation, decommissioning and the development of new reactors in both countries. That will benefit jobs and the supply chain around the UK, specifically where there is a strong history of a nuclear industry, such as in her constituency, which she champions.

The additional power supplies from offshore wind farms are creating the need for further pylons, yet if we doubled the voltage of power lines from 400 kV to 800 kV, we might not need them. That is used in China and America, and would stop the need for all the additional power lines running up and down the country. Will the Department look into that?

It will be useful for us both if I write to my hon. Friend and set out the technical assessments, constraints and issues around that, because he makes an interesting point.

The Government have finally committed to a carbon border adjustment mechanism to protect our energy-intensive industries from being undercut by imports made with dirtier energy or in more heavily polluting processes. Will the Minister explain why the Government are delaying that until 2027, when the EU is introducing equivalent legislation a whole year earlier? Will he speak urgently to ministerial colleagues about bringing that date forward, both to protect our industries and reduce our carbon footprint?

I thank the hon. Lady for her support for the introduction of a carbon border adjustment mechanism. This is to make sure that we do not have carbon leakage—to use the jargon—where carbon costs imposed on companies here lead to that production simply going abroad, with no betterment to the planet. His Majesty’s Treasury takes the lead on this particular policy, but I will ensure that her sentiments are passed on to my Treasury colleagues.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that, given all the questions about carbon accounting, sustainability and value for taxpayers’ money, the Government will not be guaranteeing Drax billions more in subsidies?

As my hon. Friend knows, we will shortly be consulting on potential support arrangements to help facilitate the transition of large-scale biomass generation to power bioenergy with carbon capture and storage. Power bioenergy with carbon capture and storage could deliver negative emissions to support our climate change targets and the UK’s energy security.