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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 746: debated on Tuesday 27 February 2024

Energy Security and Net Zero

The Secretary of State was asked—

Social Energy Tariff

1. What recent assessment her Department has made of the potential merits of introducing a social energy tariff. (901660)

23. What recent assessment her Department has made of the potential merits of introducing a social energy tariff. (901682)

Energy prices are now at their lowest level for two years, with a typical bill set to drop by £238 by April. Our cost of living package totals over £104 billion, or £3,700 per household on average, over 2022 to 2025. We are supporting those most in need, with millions of vulnerable households receiving up to £900 in cost of living payments.

Some of us believe in preventative spending. A House of Commons Library briefing last year estimated that the annual cost to the national health service of treating illnesses associated with living in cold or damp housing is £1.4 billion. When wider societal costs are considered, that figure rises to £15.4 billion. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether the introduction of a social energy tariff would cost less than £15.4 billion?

A social tariff means lots of things to different people, but we are supporting vulnerable people with the cost of their energy bills. We supported them last winter, paying on average a half of everybody’s energy bills, and we have made additional payments of £900 to support people. Since 2010, we have increased the proportion of homes that are energy-efficient and insulated to 50%, up from 14%.

On energy tariffs, what assessment has the Secretary of State made of the merits of providing residents who are local to energy and nuclear plants with discounts on their energy bills?

I thank my hon. Friend for her doughty campaigning for nuclear—she is our very own atomic kitten. We are very positive about nuclear and have set out plans for the largest expansion of nuclear for 70 years. Overall that will be a good thing for people’s energy bills and the energy security of this country.

Fuel Poverty

10. What estimate she has made of the number of households in fuel poverty in winter 2023-24. (901669)

Fuel poverty is a devolved matter. The latest figures, published on 15 February 2024, showed that 3.17 million households were in fuel poverty in 2023. The Government continue to deliver financial support to low-income homes and vulnerable households through the warm home discount scheme and cost of living payments.

As I am sure you are aware, Mr Speaker, the cost of living crisis is far from over for constituents in our area. The Government’s latest energy efficiency policy, the Great British insulation scheme, was supposed to insulate 100,000 homes a year, but so far just 3,000 families have been helped in eight months, including only 35 homes in Lancashire and just six in Blackburn. Will the Minister explain why currently it will take 60 years to meet their three-year target?

Energy efficiency is incredibly important to this Government and we have many schemes available. The Great British insulation scheme alone has committed £592 million.

I hear what the Minister says about the Great British insulation scheme. It comes after the green deal and the green homes grant, but frankly it looks like another failure. There are 1.4 million people living in South Yorkshire, but just 137 of their homes have been upgraded under the GBIS. My constituents want their bills cut, emissions reduced and their homes insulated, but Government incompetence is standing in the way. When will the Minister get a grip?

We are spending £6 billion in this Parliament and a further £6 billion up to 2028 to make buildings, including private rented properties, cleaner and warmer. That is in addition to the estimated £5 billion that will be delivered for ECO4—the energy company obligation—and the Great British insulation scheme up to March 2026.

Over the past two years, my constituents in Motherwell and Wishaw, as well as the disability groups that I engage with, have told me harrowing tales of dire fuel poverty and energy debt, while the energy giants post record profits. Even with the new price cap, National Energy Action estimates that there will be 6 million UK households in fuel poverty, with energy debt sitting at £6 billion. After April, the only support available will be the £150 warm home discount, which has barely been increased in a decade. When will the Government take meaningful action and finally consult on an energy social tariff?

Last winter, this Government delivered £40 billion for households and businesses. We also have the warm home discount, the winter fuel payment and the disability cost of living payment. We are committed to ensuring that affordability is top of our list in relation to energy security.

We have had 14 years of fiasco after fiasco with energy saving schemes from this Government. Frankly, my constituents are fed up with it. In Gateshead, just seven homes have been upgraded under the Government’s latest energy efficiency scheme. Can the Minister say why this is such a disaster and why progress is so slow?

We continue to drive energy efficiency improvements for lower-income and fuel-poor households, through schemes including the energy company obligation, the social housing decarbonisation scheme and the homes upgrade grant.

A recent report from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit exposes the Government’s record on insulation and says that the Government’s false claims about their success mostly involved taking credit for schemes that were a legacy of the last Labour Government. A record low of around 80,000 measures were installed in total under the Government’s programmes in 2022. Is not the truth that this Government are failing millions of people in fuel poverty?

This Government have provided unprecedented support for people in this country. I have regular meetings with stakeholders, charities and different organisations. Undoubtedly, we are making sure that people have support through, as I have mentioned, the warm home discount, the energy price cap and lots of other payments, such as the cost of living payment of £900 per annum.

Talking of fuel poverty, the boiler tax results in consumers paying an extra £150 when they purchase a new boiler. Does the Minister agree that it is now time to ditch these unworkable and unaffordable net zero policies and let the British people decide how to heat their homes and what cars to drive so that they can keep more of their own money?

No decision has yet been taken on that, but we have a commitment to ensure that we get the very best deal for all our constituents.

A year ago, the then Energy Secretary said that if suppliers had wrongly installed prepayment meters in any home, they would have to recompense their customers for the way they had behaved. One year later, can the Minister tell the House how many individuals who had a prepayment meter wrongly installed have had compensation, how many are yet to receive it and, of those still waiting, when they will get the compensation?

One thing on which we can all agree across the House is that it was absolutely abhorrent that people had prepayment meters forced on them. We are working our way through the compensation, but I can assure Members that we are doing everything we can to ensure that, when prepayment meters are installed, we are doing exactly the right thing to make sure that everybody is kept safe.

I asked the Minister three questions but did not get an answer to any of them. Perhaps she can put the figures in the House of Commons Library, because she clearly does not have a clue what they are.

More than 3 million households are in debt to their energy suppliers and almost 10 million households are living in cold, damp and poorly insulated homes. The Great British insulation scheme is proving to be a great Tory insulation fiasco. Will the Minister tell me why the insulation scheme is proving to be such a disaster?

We have taken great steps to support people. For example, last winter we gave unprecedented support to households and businesses. Of course, debt is a major concern, and I have regular meetings with stakeholders to ensure that we are doing the very best not only to get people out of debt, but to prevent them getting into debt in the first place.

New Nuclear

3. What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on delivering new nuclear power stations. (901662)

The civil nuclear road map reconfirmed the Government’s ambition to deploy up to 24 GW of nuclear power by 2050. It sets out plans to make investment decisions about 3 GW to 7 GW every five years between 2030 and 2044.

I thank the Minister for his answer. New nuclear holds the key not only to ensuring energy security but to creating thousands of high-skilled, well-paid jobs in the areas where it is located, but too often the planning process can take years, even on sites where there is long-established nuclear use. Has he discussed with ministerial colleagues what can be done to shorten that process significantly?

I can confirm that I have had those conversations, and the Government are exploring the potential for reducing regulatory burdens for the consenting and licensing of new nuclear power stations without impacting safety, security or environmental protections. We are also looking to introduce a range of other streamlining measures, including the action plan for reform, which sets out reforms to the nationally significant infrastructure projects regime.

Will the Minister confirm that Nuclear Decommissioning Authority-owned land adjacent to Sellafield will be made available for new nuclear? More specifically, will enough land be made available to accommodate two 470 MW Rolls-Royce power stations and their ancillary buildings and spaces?

I can confirm that Moorside is indeed a candidate for new nuclear, and it is one of a number of potential sites for hosting civil nuclear projects. Great British Nuclear is currently running a competitive process to select those small modular reactor technologies best able to facilitate operational projects in the 2030s. That said, the project needs to run its course, and I know my hon. Friend will understand that no decision on sites has yet been made.

The UK’s first nuclear fusion power plant is due to be built a short 45-minute drive from Lincoln. It will increase energy generation and hopefully limit the amount of agricultural land being used to house solar farms. Will my hon. Friend update the House on the role that institutions such as the University of Lincoln will have in providing research and training for these types of power plants and their associated advanced jobs of the future?

It is indeed a very exciting time for fusion in this country. Our Fusion Futures programme will provide up to £55 million over five years to train more than 2,200 people, helping meet the demands of our growing fusion sector. That will expand our existing fusion training programmes through work with universities such as the University of Lincoln, colleges and employers, and provide a pipeline of highly skilled scientists, engineers and technicians at all career levels, from apprentice to post-doctoral fellow.

Berkeley has secured incredibly exciting investment in nuclear innovation with a consortium involving Rolls-Royce and the University of Bristol. A low-carbon energy park with international status at Berkeley and Oldbury, next door, go hand in hand as the Severn Edge project. The Government have a good opportunity to meet their energy security ambitions and lead the way. Will my hon. Friend provide assurances that he will work with Western Gateway on Severn Edge? I heard him say that the competition has to run its course, but will the course be run ahead of the summer recess?

My hon. Friend is tempting me. Oldbury is a candidate for new nuclear, and one of a number of potential sites that could host civil nuclear projects. It is exciting and encouraging to see the number of sites and projects coming forward for investment. As I said, the competition has to run its course, and no decision on sites has been made, but it is very encouraging to see such interest across the country in our great nuclear future.

Nuclear power plants come with a huge up-front capital cost. Even small modular reactors have a considerable price tag, so it is important that the Government get their procurement right for once. Does the Minister agree that SMRs offer possibilities for economies of scale? A large number could be commissioned at once, giving potential savings to the taxpayer while delivering reliable baseload supply to the national grid.

Yes, of course I agree. That is one of the huge benefits, along with many others, of small modular reactors, which is why we are running our down selection programme, and supporting exports from this country to across the world so that other countries can join us on our nuclear journey, investing in small modular, advanced modular and gigawatt-scale projects over the next few years.

The delivery of nuclear power stations for Northern Ireland is something that I would welcome, but other parties in Northern Ireland might have concerns about it. The one thing that we in Northern Ireland can all agree on is that, as part of this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we must be part of the manufacturing base and procurement process. Can the Minister confirm that the people of Northern Ireland will have that opportunity?

Not only can I confirm that, but I put on record my support to all the companies in Northern Ireland that are already integral to the supply chain for our nuclear sector. Our nuclear revival not only will deliver a more secure, robust and clean energy baseload, but has the potential to create thousands of new manufacturing and supply chain jobs across the country, and I want that to impact positively on every corner of our United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Contrary to propaganda from the Conservative side, the last Labour Government handed over a detailed nuclear development plan that ran up to 2025, with 10 sites identified for nuclear development, early discussions with nuclear developers, and a plan for a deep and secure nuclear repository. Since then, over 14 years, not one electron of new nuclear power has been produced, Hinkley C is now at risk of further delays and no progress at all has been made on the establishment of a secure storage site for nuclear waste. What assurances can the Minister give that lessons have been learned from that frankly fairly lamentable stewardship of the previous plan, and that the latest plan is set up to deliver?

I have never been accused of propagandising before. It is a matter of pride on the Conservative Benches that every single nuclear project that has ever been completed in this country has been completed under a Conservative Government—it does not look as though that is likely to change any time soon, despite the protestations and near-Damascene conversion of Labour Front Benchers on nuclear over the past few years. We are carrying on with our nuclear revival; we have set out our nuclear road map; and we are encouraging, enthusing and investing in our civil nuclear sector. I am very excited about the progress that we have made and what will take place in the sector over the next few years.

Use of Agricultural Land for Solar

4. What steps she is taking with Cabinet colleagues to help ensure that land used for food production is not used for solar installations. (901663)

The planning policy priority is the effective use of land by directing solar projects to locate on previously developed low-grade land, and it is designed to avoid, mitigate and, where necessary, compensate for impacts on the best agricultural land.

The Prime Minister was very clear that vast swathes of agricultural land would not be lost to solar on his watch, yet I am seeing thousands of acres across my constituency being built out or proposed for solar—from Kimble Wick to Dinton, Ford to Beachampton, and more—including the latest 2,100 acre abomination in the Claydons known as Rosefield. Good agricultural land that regularly produces wheat harvests of 10 tonnes per hectare, for example, is often falsely graded as 3b because the readings are taken from the headland, not the field. When will my hon. Friend ensure that energy policy does not trump food security, and stop the mass proliferation of agricultural land being used for inefficient solar?

I understand the concern and frustration of my hon. Friend and his constituents. That particular project is at the pre-application planning stage. The application is expected to be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate between January and March 2025. However, as I know he understands, owing to the quasi-judicial role of Ministers in determining applications, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on any specific matters in relation to that project, but I can reassure him that all applications are judged on their individual merits, and I encourage him and all his affected constituents to engage with the planning process at every stage as it continues.

With all due respect to Conservative Members, who always represent the farming industry, as do we in the Liberal Democrats, farmers are not stupid. They will not take high-quality agricultural land out of production, and that is not happening, so I really worry about the argument being made here. We are far behind our renewable targets for solar, so what incentive can the Government provide to get more, not less, UK solar off the ground?

I can reassure the hon. Lady that the solar taskforce will publish its recommendations imminently, and we have an ambitious target of deploying 70 GW of solar across the UK by 2035.

Residents in Staffordshire Moorlands are very concerned about a number of planning applications for solar farms and battery storage plants on farmland. They have a number of questions, so can my hon. Friend ensure that small district councils have the appropriate expertise to look at those applications? Can he make sure that proximity to the national grid is taken into consideration, and that when there are a number of applications relating to adjoining pieces of land, those applications are considered as a whole, rather than looked at individually?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her question, and reassure her that we take all those concerns incredibly seriously. I am very happy to meet her and any other Member of Parliament who has concerns about the plans being put forward in their constituency. As I have said, it is really important that everybody—from Members of Parliament through to those in the community who are affected by or have concerns about plans—can engage with the planning process at every stage. We will do what we can to address those concerns while meeting our ambitious target of deploying 70 GW of solar by 2035.

I am delighted to see you in your place, Mr Speaker. Some people have short memories.

Bearing in mind the difficulties that farmers are facing, particularly those with rocky or infertile land, will the Minister have discussions with his colleagues in the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to ensure that some of that land is used in ways that maximise the benefit to the farming community, as well as contributing to net zero?

I thank the hon. Member for his question. I can assure him that we are already engaging with the National Farmers Union; indeed, it has been working with the solar taskforce to enable us to work with farmers and understand their concerns. I am very happy to meet farming representatives from all parts of the United Kingdom to determine how we can best support them and reach our net zero objectives by the date we have set ourselves.

One of the arguments put forward for a large solar farm on agricultural land in my constituency is that there are limited points of interconnection with the national grid for large solar farm developers wishing to contract with it. Could my hon. Friend the Minister advise me on whether that is the case, and if it is, could he follow up on that, and advise all Members of Parliament on where those limitations exist?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Obviously, I do not know the detail of the case he raised, but I am very happy to meet him following questions to look at it in more detail. Despite what I said about the quasi-judicial role of Ministers in planning applications, it is really important that all concerns are addressed and looked at, and that the planning application system is thorough, robust and transparent.

On land use for food production and achieving net zero, has the Minister done an impact assessment of the rising carbon emissions from the UK Government carrying on with their agricultural policy, which is reducing incentives for farmers to produce food? As a consequence, we will import more food. As things stand, we produce only 60% of the food we eat; importing more and more food will surely increase carbon emissions. Has the Minister looked into that, and done an impact assessment of it?

At the National Farmers Union conference just last week, the Prime Minister reiterated this Government’s commitment to supporting British farmers in their primary role of delivering food for the nation. It would be good to see the Liberal Democrats give their support to British farmers in so forceful a manner. We are absolutely determined to do what we can to support British farmers in continuing to deliver that food—and, indeed, to support the technologies that we need to reach our net zero commitments, which I am led to believe the Liberal Democrats still support.

Energy Standing Charges

5. Whether she has had discussions with energy providers on reducing energy standing charges for charities and businesses. (901664)

The setting of tariffs, including standing charges, in the non-domestic market is a commercial matter for suppliers. The Secretary of State and I have met suppliers and Ofgem multiple times over the past year to urge them to support businesses and keep bills down, and Ofgem has recently called for input and views on standing charges.

Mr Speaker, I associate myself with your earlier remarks about the sad passing of my dear friend Ronnie Campbell, and indeed Lord Cormack.

For months now, East Durham Trust in my constituency has been in dispute with its supplier, TotalEnergies, after TotalEnergies raised its standing charge from 40p a day to £20 a day—an increase of over 4,000%. Remarkably, after making complaints to the Department, Ofgem, Northern Powergrid and TotalEnergies, I found out just yesterday that TotalEnergies has agreed to remotely reconfigure the meter in question. Can the Minister explain why energy companies and distributors do not seek to address customer issues sooner, and does she agree that we have a failing regulator and an energy system that seeks to maximise profits?

I am pleased to hear from the hon. Gentleman that the situation has been resolved, and I suggest that exactly the right recourse is to contact the relevant parties. We are now launching the ability of the ombudsman to help small businesses as well, which reassures me that such cases will be seen to more quickly and resolved sooner.

In the UK, electricity standing charges will balloon by 12%, meaning that people in Scotland who were paying £90 a year in 2021-22 will soon need to find £216 a year—a 138% increase under this Tory Government. That removes the incentive to curb excessive use, and presents a disincentive to economise on energy usage. If costs and charges were redistributed to the unit price, consumers would be empowered to pursue reduced usage, knowing that that would translate into lower bills. What assessment has the Minister made of the savings that would be made, in terms of both carbon emissions and the need for vast pieces of new energy infrastructure, if the standing charges were rolled into unit prices?

Standing charges, as I mentioned, are a matter for Ofgem. However, Ofgem has listened to public sentiment, and it has recently launched a call for input on standing charges. My understanding is that to date, it has had over 40,000 responses. The call for input closed on 19 January, and Ofgem’s paper aims to ensure a greater understanding of how standing charges are applied to energy bills and what alternatives should be considered.

Green Technologies: Private Investment

The UK has already made tremendous progress in securing investment in green technologies; recent figures indicate that there was £60 billion of investment in the UK in 2023, meaning that since 2010, the UK has had £300 billion of public and private investment in low-carbon sectors. Since I took office in September, we have put in place new policies and signed deals with different countries, and the investment has continued to flow, with plans for around £24 billion of new investment in low-carbon sectors announced by the private sector.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Harmony Energy based in Knaresborough opened Europe’s largest battery farm in Yorkshire in 2022. It has raised the issue of connectivity challenges being a blockage to investment, so I welcome the connections action plan, which aims to cut connection times by up to 90%. Battery farms are critical for energy retention and storage, and are particularly helpful for renewables, so may I ask my right hon. Friend for an update on how the plan is being implemented?

We have set out the most radical reforms to the grid since the 1950s. As the action plan sets out, we are taking action with Ofgem and network companies to accelerate those really important network connections. Network companies are offering earlier connection to battery storage and generation projects. For example, 10 GW of battery storage projects are already being offered connection dates to the transmission network that are on average four years earlier than was originally agreed.

The UK’s ceramics sector has invested heavily in energy efficiency technologies, and it is committed to going further, but many of the alternative green technologies are not yet viable, and there are serious risks that too stringent net zero targets will result in carbon leakage, and in offshoring an industry and skilled jobs to countries that have a far worse environmental record. Will my right hon. Friend look seriously at exempting the ceramics sector from the emissions trading scheme, to give the sector the breathing space that it needs to invest?

I commend my hon. Friend’s unwavering commitment to advocating for the ceramics sector in his constituency. The UK Government remain steadfast in safeguarding sectors deemed at risk of carbon leakage, and I strongly encourage the ceramics sector in his constituency to actively participate in the consultation on free allocation policy, which is open.

A new report from the Green Finance Institute and the Institute for Public Policy Research notes that a lack of public investment and strategy is holding back progress on unlocking private investment, and that the chopping and changing of policy pathways has damaged investor confidence. The Secretary of State likes to say that she has a clear strategy, so will she tell investors what it is? Will she call on the Chancellor to deliver the scale of public investment that we so urgently need to restore investor confidence and lift the UK off the bottom of the G7 league table for private investment, where we currently languish?

I thank the hon. Lady for that question, but I am surprised that she did not welcome the recent news that the UK was the first country in the G20 to halve its emissions since the 1990s, as I know that subject is dear to her heart. As I have said, in 2023, the UK saw around £60 billion of low-carbon private and public investment. We got that extraordinary success by encouraging private investment. Whether through the contracts for difference scheme, our new policies on capital allowances, or the effect of the green industries growth accelerator on the supply chain, the UK is doing everything it can to attract investment, and that is exactly why we have made those achievements.

Last week, the Scottish Government announced £24.5 million of public investment in a new cable factory, which will attract a further £350 million of inward investment. Does the Secretary of State agree that the best way to increase private investment is for the Government to increase public investment, to signal that the UK is open to green investment? Should not the UK Government therefore invest at least £28 billion a year, so that we can maximise private investment, and so that economic growth from the green transition is also maximised?

As I said, our record on net zero investment is incredibly strong. In fact, I believe the CBI had a report out this morning showing that our net zero sectors have been growing by 9% in the last year. We have set out plans for further investment, whether that is in grid connections, supply chain investment through our Gigafund, or reforming capital allowance. All those things, and not public sector investment alone, attract private investment to this country.

This Government are locked in a doom loop of inertia, and everyone is talking about it. Just this week, the National Infrastructure Commission said that the Government are taking too long, need to move faster, and that greater urgency is required. The CBI report that the Secretary of State mentioned says that

“strong future growth from green businesses is being put at risk”.

Labour’s national wealth fund will crowd in private investment and create thousands of good jobs for plumbers, engineers, electricians and welders. Is blowing our advantage and losing the race for the industries of the future part of the Government’s plan, or do they just not have one?

I thank the hon. Lady for having the chutzpah to attempt that question. If she would like to talk about uncertainty on investment plans, she need only look at those on the Benches behind her, who have performed the most extraordinary flip-flop on that. We have delivered the second highest cumulative amount of recorded low-carbon investment across Europe over the past five years.

High-carbon Advertising

The Advertising Standards Authority is responsible for regulating advertising in the UK across traditional forms of media, and it takes environmental issues seriously. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to approach the ASA directly with that request, as it operates independently of Government.

Thank you for waking me up, Mr Speaker. The Adfree Cities campaign is very significant. Most of us have seen flashing coloured screens proliferate in our towns and cities, and much more densely in other countries, such as France and Germany. Not only do these screens use a lot of energy and electricity, but they are very invasive of people’s dwellings. Can we be very careful about the proliferation of those screens?

As I said, the ASA would be the key people to go to. Companies in the sector are, and should be, mindful of their net zero obligations. They are looking into making commitments to source all their electricity from renewable sources, which is a solid thing to do, as well as using digital technologies to minimise energy usage. The Net Zero Council is producing road maps for all industry sectors across the economy, to encourage businesses to do everything they can to minimise their environmental impact.

Petrol Prices

Last week, we launched a consultation, closing on 12 March, on requiring petrol stations to report a change in price within 30 minutes. Pumpwatch will enable drivers to make informed decisions on where to buy fuel and will reignite competition.

I thank the Minister for her answer, but my constituents in Stafford remain concerned about the price of fuel, particularly given the pressures on their household budgets. I welcome the fact that the price of a tank of fuel is lower than it was when prices were at their peak, but what is she doing to ensure that my constituents get the best price for their fuel?

We are committed to making sure that consumers get a fair deal. That is why fuel retailers must remain transparent and not overcharge drivers. The Pumpwatch consultation will require all petrol stations to report prices within 30 minutes of their changing. That will enable tech companies to develop new ways for UK drivers to search for the cheapest fuel.

In rural communities across Devon, people feel the pressure of high fuel costs. The cost of fuel in towns such as Honiton is almost 20p a litre higher than at petrol stations just 30 miles away. What steps will the Government take to ensure fairness, and to introduce rural fuel duty relief of the sort that we already have in some parts of north Devon?

Pumpwatch will help with those things, but it is unacceptable for any fuel retailer to overcharge drivers. That is why the Secretary of State held a roundtable in December with fuel retailers to make it clear that we expect them to pass on savings to consumers when prices fall.

Home Energy Efficiency

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for her committed work to support her constituents living in rural areas. We have a proud record of energy efficiency. We are encouraging, rather than forcing, people to make the right choices, and we pushed back the ban on gas boilers while increasing the boiler upgrade scheme to £7,500, which is one of the most generous grants in Europe.

There are 1,858 listed properties in North Shropshire, according to the Listed Property Owners Club, and 24 conservation areas across our historical market towns and villages. That means that there is a large number of buildings that owners find it difficult to upgrade to make them energy-efficient. What conversations has the Minister had with her colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on enabling people to bring those homes into the 21st century and make them energy-efficient?

The hon. Member makes a good point. We have those consultations across Departments, and local authorities in rural areas in England are eligible for grants. I can give my assurance that we have those cross-government meetings.

Many off-grid homes across Cornwall cannot convert to energy-efficient heating schemes without incurring huge costs. One option for them is to use hydro-treated vegetable oil. Can the Minister lay out what plans the Government have to support those using renewable liquid heating fuels, and will she back the campaign by our excellent candidate for Camborne and Redruth, Connor Donnithorne, to axe the tax on HVOs?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. We have begun developing a consultation on the role of renewable liquid fuels in heat. We expect Department for Energy Security and Net Zero Ministers to receive detailed information on the shape of the consultation in the coming weeks, and aim to publish in the summer of 2024.

Electricity Market Review

The Government plan to publish the second consultation imminently. It will set out a clear direction on how the GB electricity market arrangements will evolve to keep electricity bills as low as possible for consumers of all types.

There are two questions that my constituents ask me most frequently: when will we see cheaper electricity from renewables, and when people in areas such as mine, which host a lot of renewable production, benefit from cheaper prices, as a result of hosting that infrastructure?

The Government are moving on from our appalling inheritance in 2010 of less than 7% of our electricity coming from renewables, with that figure today up to well over 40%. Every day we add to that, we displace gas and other fossil fuels and lower bills for people, and we plan to keep that going. We already have solar, onshore wind and other developers providing benefits to consumers, and we will come forward with plans for those hosting—

People who are considering changing their boiler struggle to find accurate information about the benefits and the costs. Will the Minister consider issuing new guidance that makes clear both the costs and the benefits of switching to a heat pump?

It can be a complex matter. That is why the Government have committed to looking at rebalancing the system costs across electricity and gas, as well as to ensure that people can benefit, as I do, from a heat pump, which provides a warm home and low bills.

Energy Costs

Ofgem’s new price cap means that from April, the average bill is set to drop by £238. This shows that our plan is working: we have halved inflation and energy prices are at their lowest level in two years. Alongside that, we have taken the number of homes that are well insulated up from 14% in 2010 to 50% now. We have recently set out plans to help more customers access smarter energy tariffs, which could save them up to £900 a year.

I am grateful for the answer, but one thing my constituents in Stirling do not understand is electricity standing charges. As we have heard, according to Ofgem’s figures, they have rocketed by 138% from £90.84 in 2021-22 to £216.23 in 2023-24. Ofgem has issued a call for evidence, which is to be welcomed, but Ofgem is clearly not fit for purpose on this. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is high time the UK Government stepped in?

The hon. Gentleman is right that Ofgem regulates standing charges and has issued a call for evidence. I think about 40,000 people have given input, and we look forward to seeing the results. However, if he was really worried about the cost of living for families in the country, the SNP would not have taken taxes in Scotland to the highest level in the UK.

The fall in the energy price cap is certainly welcomed by Carshalton and Wallington residents, as is the support for households, but many small and medium-sized businesses in my constituency are still struggling to absorb higher costs. Will the Secretary of State outline in a bit more detail the support that those businesses can access to help with energy bills?

I thank my hon. Friend for recently welcoming me to Carshalton and Wallington. Wholesale energy prices have fallen significantly since last winter, but we are committed to supporting businesses with their energy bills. Last winter alone, we delivered about £7.4 billion to support businesses, covering nearly half of many businesses’ wholesale energy costs. We are continuing the energy bills discount scheme to support eligible businesses with high energy costs until they can take advantage of lower wholesale prices.

Topical Questions

A lot has happened since I was last at the Dispatch Box. Not only have energy bills fallen to their lowest level in two years—welcome news for families up and down the country—but Britain has become the first major economy to halve our emissions, which is a huge milestone on our journey to net zero, our Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill has completed its Commons stages, and we are supporting the North sea by protecting 200,000 jobs and using our own gas to heat our homes.

I have signed a new partnership with Canada on fusion energy, which is a technology that could give us limitless energy and one on which Britain is leading the world. We have confirmed the UK’s departure from the energy charter treaty, which was holding back our transition to cleaner, cheaper energy. We have launched a consultation on smart energy tariffs, which could see £900 taken off people’s bills, and today we host our hydrogen investor forum, announcing eight successful projects to make low-carbon hydrogen, with over £27 million of Government support.

Residents in Esclusham in my constituency are alarmed by Innova’s plans for the UK’s largest lithium-ion battery storage facility near Bersham. Can my right hon. Friend give any reassurance about the safety of this technology to my constituents, who are concerned about the dangers of pollution, given the noise emitted by such equipment, and by reports of similar facilities elsewhere exploding, catching fire and emitting toxic fumes?

Electricity storage allows us to use energy more flexibly and to minimise energy bills. Grid-scale lithium-ion battery energy storage systems are covered by a robust regulatory framework that is principally over- seen by the Health and Safety Executive. Planning guidance encourages developers and local authorities to consult relevant fire and rescue services on aspects such as location, ahead of any planning decisions being made.

Some 23% of households in Scotland are living in extreme fuel poverty. Energy debt across the United Kingdom has reached £3.1 billion. Age UK estimates that, had the UK Government implemented a social tariff this winter, 2.2 million households would have been lifted out of poverty. The latest costs of unpayable energy debt have once again been heaped on to ordinary taxpayers by Ofgem through the unit rate. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of how much energy debt could be reduced by through the introduction of a social tariff to mitigate totally unaffordable energy bills?

The fact that energy prices are at the lowest level in two years is good news for families up and down the country. We have put in place support, including a package of more than £104 billion to support families—that is £3,700 per household on average. As part of that, we have made £900 cost of living payments to help people in the last year.

T2. Energy is a vital purchase for the hospitality sector, and can make up a large part of the overall costs. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that the energy costs faced by pubs, hotels and food businesses do not put them out of business? (901686)

I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. Wholesale energy prices have fallen compared with last year. The Government have been supporting eligible businesses locked into high contracts through the energy bills discount scheme, until they can take advantage of lower fixed-price rates. My hon. Friend will be interested to hear that the Government delivered more than £7.4 billion to non-domestic energy users last winter, covering around half of many businesses’ energy bills.

Last September, the Energy Secretary claimed she was lifting the onshore wind ban, but in the whole of 2023 and so far in 2024 there have been zero applications for new onshore wind farms designed for domestic electricity supply in England. She said that her decision would speed up the delivery of projects. Why does she think it has not worked?

Let me be clear about our record on onshore wind. Energy production has quadrupled since 2010, when we had 3.9 GW of onshore wind, to 15.4 GW in 2023. We have connected the second highest amount of renewables anywhere in Europe, whereas the right hon. Gentleman’s plans have been widely discredited by industry and would deter billions of pounds of investment in clean energy.

The right hon. Lady did not answer the question. I will tell her why it has not worked: because she has left a uniquely restrictive planning regime in place for onshore wind. Her failure is costing families across this country £180 a year on their bills. We know that her policy has failed. She could dump the ban at the stroke of a pen. If she is vaguely serious about clean energy, why does she not face down the headbangers on her Back Benches and lift the ban?

As I said, we have connected the second highest amount of renewable electricity anywhere in Europe since 2010. Our record on renewable energy is clear. This is the most extraordinary deflection that I have seen. In recent weeks, the right hon. Gentleman’s leader has shredded his policy platform on energy. To be honest, I feel quite sorry for him, because thanks to the action of his leader and his shadow Chancellor, he has been hidden away, his policy has been ripped up and it is now obvious to everyone that Labour has no plan for energy.

T3. Further to the question by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) about the review of electricity market arrangements, I welcome the fact that we are, at last, getting to grips with the clunky old rules that add potentially hundreds of pounds to everyone’s energy bills. May I urge the Minister to go faster? This is chugging along at Whitehall speed, and we need urgent action to reduce energy bills soon. (901687)

I thank my hon. Friend for his continuing interest in this issue. The REMA programme is considering a number of options, including sending more efficient locational signals, which I know he is very knowledgeable about, zonal pricing, reform to transmission charging and changes to network access. The second round of the consultation is imminent.

T4. This Government’s treatment of miners, retired miners and their widows is nothing short of a national scandal. Since 2021, the Government have been sitting on the recommendations of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee report, which recommended reviewing the mineworkers’ pension scheme’s surplus sharing arrangements in favour of miners and their widows. During that time, thousands of miners have sadly passed away through the legacy of industrial disease, while the Government have pocketed £4.8 billion of the miners’ own money since 1994. When are the Government going to do the right thing and return the miners’ money? (901688)

The Government are doing the right thing, have done the right thing and will continue to do the right thing in coming to a fair settlement between miners, the Government and the taxpayer. That is what we will continue to do, and I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss it further.

T5. Earlier this month, the all-party parliamentary group on infrastructure, which I chair, launched a joint report with the Institution of Civil Engineers on the public behavioural changes needed to achieve our net zero target. I have sent my right hon. Friend a copy of the report. As part of its production, we carried out market research, which highlighted public uncertainty on where to go for accurate information to help people make the choices required to decarbonise their lives. What is the Department doing to help fill that information gap? (901689)

Of course, my hon. Friend has a highly distinguished history in the marketing industry. We agree that it is important that the public get the information they need to save money on their bills, as we set out in the net zero growth plan. That is why last autumn we relaunched the “It All Adds Up” campaign, which helped British households save an estimated £120 million last winter. Whether it is elf on the shelf or other such routes, we will find ways to better communicate with the public, precisely to allow them to be well informed in doing their bit for net zero.

T6. The Under-Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, the hon. Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway) spoke about the Government’s approach to differential fuel prices in different towns. Motorists in Chesterfield remain mystified as to why major supermarkets are charging them more than they charge customers just a few miles up the road in Sheffield. It is clear that the Government’s approach is not working. When I wrote to the major supermarkets, they admitted that they charge Chesterfield customers more. There is no reason why customers in Chesterfield should be charged more than customers in Sheffield, so will the Minister tell us what she is doing about that? (901690)

I could not agree more that we should not be paying different prices at different petrol stations. That is one of the reasons why we have launched a consultation on Pumpwatch, and why we have very regular meetings with the suppliers to make sure that they are not doing this. They should not be doing it and we are very clear about that.

T9. Offshore Energies UK’s industry manifesto highlights the once- in-a-lifetime opportunity that a home-grown energy transition provides to bring investment and jobs to communities all around the UK. This requires close collaboration between the private and public sectors. Can Ministers confirm that the Government are absolutely committed to such a partnership? (901693)

I can. What the sector does not need, of course, as OEUK has itself set out, is the tens of thousands of job losses that would be driven by the ideological and climate-damaging obsession of the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) with ending new UK oil and gas licensing.

T7. The last published Government estimate for Sizewell C is £20 billion, but Hinkley Point C, the supposed prototype for Sizewell C, is now estimated to cost £48 billion. When will the Government admit that the actual cost of Sizewell C will be a colossal £50 billion noose around bill payers’ necks? (901691)

The SNP, blinded by a misplaced belief in its own exceptionalism, seems almost alone in the world in not recognising the benefits of new nuclear when it comes to meeting our net zero objectives, delivering our energy security and improving our baseload. At last year’s COP, 30 countries around the world came together to commit to increasing nuclear-generated capacity by 30%. It would be brilliant if Scotland could be part of that change, but the SNP and its luddite partners in the Green party are holding Scotland back. We are determined not to do that for the rest of the UK.

Plans for a new incinerator in Wisbech are strongly opposed by my constituents and those of my right hon. Friends the Members for North West Cambridgeshire (Shailesh Vara) and for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss). With 300 lorry trips a day and a structure bigger than Ely cathedral, there would be serious health and environmental concerns for the nearest school. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visit the site to see for herself why the plans are wholly inappropriate?

The Secretary of State will be happy to engage with my hon. Friend, and I too would be delighted to visit the site to look into the issues that he has raised.

T8. At last we have heard the excellent news from Stellantis that it is to build electric vans at Luton’s Vauxhall plant from 2025, as a result of the tireless efforts of both management and workforce in pursuit of efficiency and quality. What plans have the Government to invest in electric vehicle charging infrastructure to help to stimulate the EV consumer market? (901692)

The hon. Lady is right to salute the astonishing investments that we are seeing throughout the automotive sector, and I am delighted that the Government have been able to help to bring them about. As she knows, we are committed to spreading more and more charging across the United Kingdom, not least in motorway service areas, so that we have the infrastructure to facilitate the decarbonisation of transport alongside all our other emitters.

Earlier this month we welcomed the Prime Minister to A&P Falmouth to meet its workforce and talk about its fantastic submission for funding under the floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme to enable the port of Falmouth to support the emerging floating offshore wind sector in the Celtic sea. Can the Minister reassure my constituents that the Government are looking at all the applications with a scrutinising eye to ensure that the supply chain can be built up throughout the south-west?

I can indeed confirm that the supply chain and the manufacturing jobs that will be created through our investment in floating offshore wind will benefit every community in the United Kingdom. No decision has yet been made on FLOWMIS, but one will be made imminently.

T10. Government statistics released last week show that 469,000 low-income households in the north-west live in energy-inefficient properties. Hundreds of households in the Fishwick area of Preston are still struggling with cold, damp homes after the failed installation of insulation more than a decade ago. Will the Minister commit his Department to future fuel poverty schemes that will prioritise the fixing of past mistakes, as well as renewed support for good insulation to be fitted in older terrace properties around the country? (901694)

The Government are already committed to ensuring that households have the necessary energy efficiency. We have introduced the social housing decarbonisation boiler upgrade scheme, the home upgrade grant and many other initiatives, and we are of course helping all our constituents with affordability.

We have made huge progress in decarbonising our electricity sector, but decarbonising transport and heat is much more tricky. Will the Minister encourage our plans in Copeland to harness any power that can be obtained from new nuclear for that purpose, and will he meet us so that we can discuss those plans?

I should, as ever, be delighted to meet my hon. Friend, and very happy to discuss the opportunities that are opening up for her community and others throughout the United Kingdom. Indeed, I have visited her constituency and observed for myself the huge enthusiasm for new nuclear, as well as the additional benefits that it can bring to the wider energy sector.

The potential loss of 2,800 jobs at Tata Steel in Port Talbot is devastating for workers and their families, with possible knock-on effects for Trostre in Llanelli. As well as investing in the electric arc furnace, will the Government commit themselves to primary green steelmaking in the UK to preserve our security and our jobs?

The hon. Lady should, alongside us, celebrate the £500 million that the Government are contributing as part of an overall £1.25 billion investment in the modernisation of steel production at Port Talbot through, for instance, the electric arc furnace. Government and industry will also invest £100 million in skills to ensure that there are thousands of jobs for the future, and that we reduce emissions as well.

Will my hon. Friend reaffirm the Government’s commitment to develop four operational CCUS clusters, including Acorn in my constituency, by the end of the decade? Will my colleagues in the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero make representations to His Majesty’s Treasury to bring forward the financial investment decisions at the soonest opportunity?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and he is absolutely right: CCUS has such an important role, and we are committed to those four clusters. As we announced in March last year, we have delivered £20 billion of investment to make sure that we carry on with the transformation and decarbonisation of this country that was so woefully lacking when we took power in 2010.

Last week the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), shared a platform with an extremist, far-right, climate change-denying conspiracy theorist called Steve Bannon, who claimed that man-made global warming is a “manufactured crisis”. Will the Secretary of State condemn those crazy comments and perhaps distance herself from the former Prime Minister?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. What he should look at carefully is that the UK is the first country in the G20 to halve emissions. If he wants to look at our record, he should look at that. It is absolutely extraordinary that no one on the Opposition Benches has welcomed that news today.

National Grid’s Grimsby to Walpole project will see pylons driven across Lincolnshire’s beautiful landscapes and will take major chunks of some of this country’s best agricultural land out of production. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is vital that residents respond to the consultation that is currently going on, and that National Grid should be told to take into consideration food security as well as energy security when it considers such applications?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. As he will know, I cannot comment on a specific proposal. We need to rewire this country in order to have homegrown energy. That means hosting new infrastructure, with the presumption that it is above ground and done in a way that minimises negative impacts on food security, which I am confident that any proposals that come forward will do. Let us make no mistake: we must rewire this country. We must power the UK more from this country, clean up our energy and reduce our dependence on foreign fossil fuels.

Every single winter, the village of Altnaharra in Sutherland is the coldest community in the whole of the United Kingdom. Some parts of the United Kingdom are colder than others—that is geography. May I ask that this fact be taken into consideration when the Government look at schemes to help people with the cost of paying their electricity bills?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. As he will know, the Government delivered over £40 billion in support last winter. We expect the warm home discount to support around 3 million households this winter, with the final figures to be published later. Since 2011, the warm home discount has delivered over £3.5 billion in support for eligible low-income households.

I welcome the news that Ofgem has put the price cap down by 12%, which represents a discount of about £20 for every average home. There is one problem, though: the standing charge is still relatively high. I know there is an open consultation, but would the Government consider transparency about the standing charge on bills so that the public understand exactly what it does?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Clearly, it is vital that we had the call for input on the standing charges, and we await with anticipation how we will react to the over 40,000 responses that we have had so far.

I have recently been inundated with correspondence following the collapse of SSB Law, a legal firm that took thousands of defective cavity wall insulation cases to court. It has left constituents with tens of thousands of pounds in costs that they cannot afford during an unprecedented cost of living crisis. Can the Minister assure me that the Government have a plan to address this scandal? What compensation will my constituents be offered to remove faulty cavity wall insulation so that they can finally be free of its devastating consequences?