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House of Commons Hansard
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12 May 2016
Volume 609
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5. What steps her Department is taking to reduce energy bills for businesses and households. [904992]

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The best way to deliver on energy bills for businesses and households is to have a robust and competitive energy market. In 2010, the big six controlled 99% of the domestic retail market, but this year consumers can choose from more than 30 independent suppliers, who, between them, control more than 15% of the dual fuel market. Competition is improving, but we cannot be complacent, which is why I look forward to the final report of the Competition and Markets Authority and why I will continue to encourage consumers to switch.

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I agree with the Secretary of State on that and thank her for that answer. The best way for consumers to get a good deal on their energy bills is to consider switching. Will she confirm that the Government remain committed to driving down the time it takes for consumers to switch?

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My hon. Friend makes a good point. Consumers are sometimes put off from switching not only by the complications that they perceive, but by the length of time it can take. We are working with Ofgem and are confident that it will reach reliable next-day switching by 2018.

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My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change recently visited the award-winning eco-house in my constituency, where heating and lighting bills are kept below £100 a year. What action is the Minister going to take to promote carbon-neutral homes?

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I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She is right to point out that some fantastic innovations are taking place through private sector business investment to make sure that innovations are delivered in this sector that will help to drive down bills. On zero-carbon homes, I can reassure her that a European Union directive, due to come in by 2020, calls for near-zero carbon emissions, which I believe will help to reduce people’s bills.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important to give more power to price comparison websites to help consumers find the best deal possible? That was one suggestion put forward by the CMA.

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I agree with my hon. Friend that we have to have as many choices as possible for people, and the CMA has made some proposals, but we also have to be careful to ensure that this is addressed fairly, that the cheapest tariff is available and that there is full disclosure. I tend to encourage people to go to the Ofgem website beanenergyshopper.com.

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The Secretary of State is fond of telling us how keen she is to cut energy bills, but last Friday, when attention was diverted elsewhere, her Department revealed that families in this country will be asked to pay up to an extra £38 on their energy bills to fund her failure to get new power stations built. Can she confirm to this House that not only is she asking families to pay more to fund her policy of closing coal- fired power stations, but, at exactly the same time, she is going to ask them to pay more to keep them open?

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The hon. Lady is referring to the changes to the capacity market, and I am concerned that she has not grasped the facts of the situation, which are that wholesale prices have fallen, with the consequence being that coal prices, and indeed some gas prices, become uneconomic. Because the Government will take no risks with energy security and because we are absolutely clear that it must be the No. 1 priority, we have brought forward a new capacity market that will stop there being the sort of price hikes which are most unwelcome. My Department estimates that this will actually save consumers up to £46 on their bills.

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The absurdity of the situation appears to be completely lost on the Secretary of State, but as she has been on this panic spending spree recently perhaps I could ask her another question. She recently announced generous subsidies to EDF, the big energy company that operates Britain’s nuclear fleet. She has agreed to hand over £153 million in 2018 and a further £139 million the following year to subsidise nuclear power stations that would have been open in any case. Is she aware of the recent news that the cost of Hinkley Point C is set to rise to £21 billion, which is £3 billion more than was forecast? What is her estimate of the cost to bill payers and taxpayers in the UK of this new revised figure?

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I am concerned that the hon. Lady did not hear my answer to her earlier question. The fact is that energy security has to be the priority of government. In bringing forward changes to the capacity market, we have made sure that, with low wholesale prices, we have sufficient energy during the next two years. She just reveals her total lack of understanding of getting the right balance on secure electricity—nuclear and, yes, in the short term, coal—which supports our renewable investment, keeps bills low and ensures that customers always have a good supply of electricity.