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Energy Price Increase in April 2022

Volume 711: debated on Tuesday 29 March 2022

2. What steps he is taking to support households affected by the increase in energy prices in April 2022. (906337)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the energy price cap continues to protect consumers in a world where gas prices have more than quintupled in a year, and I strongly expect that it will continue to do so.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Given the pressure that families are facing in this cost of living crisis, does he agree that the best way to help families to pay their bills is through a windfall tax on oil and gas producers in the North sea to give the poorest up to £600 off their bills?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we believe that a windfall tax in this situation would be a tax on jobs, destroy investment and add to the uncertainty in oil markets. It would send completely the wrong message to investors, as well as to people who are invested in markets. Every one of us, anyone with a pension, would be adversely affected by such a tax.

My right hon. Friend is keen to ensure that householders and landlords improve the energy performance of properties. Will he consider the effectiveness of the current energy performance certificate system and whether that genuinely reflects the energy performance of a property? In addition, will he recognise the additional costs incurred in calling for improvements in off-grid properties, where people do not have the opportunity to invest in the same technologies as those in on-grid properties?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question. As he knows, the current EPC system is not perfect, but it does capture the significant improvement that has happened over the past few years. I am happy to consider people off grid and the challenges that they face from oil prices, and I would be happy to speak to him about that.

In recent years, the UK Government have printed and borrowed hundreds of billions of pounds, which have been gathered—I emphasise the word “gathered”—not earned by billionaires and the already wealthy. As a result, we have a cost of living crisis that makes energy price rises an acute crisis. Kerosene central heating oil has seen some of the biggest price differences, which especially hits rural and island areas where there is no mains gas. Do the Government have any plan to give people in such places a hand, which would cost a damn sight less than the bailout money that the billionaires have raked in from the Treasury?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an extensive package of support only a few weeks ago worth £9.1 billion—that included a £150 council tax rebate for bands A to D and £144 million in discretionary funding for local authorities—which affects everybody in this country. I am also very happy to engage with him on the specific issue of oil prices.

I have been contacted by many pensioners across Hyndburn and Haslingden who are concerned about the cost of their energy bills. Will the Secretary of State set out what measures are in place to support my residents, and will he continue to work with other Departments to keep those measures under review?

As I said, the Chancellor announced a £9.1 billion package of support only a few weeks ago. That included the £150 council tax rebate for bands A to D and £144 million in discretionary funding added for local authorities—spending to help the most vulnerable. We announced a £500 million extension of the household support fund last week, but I would be happy to engage with my hon. Friend on what more we can do in the next few months to assuage the burden.

Well, we know what measures the Government have in place to assist customers to manage the sky-high energy price increases now due in April, and frankly pretty miserable they are. They will not remotely cover the bulk of the increases, and we still do not know how some of them are to be delivered—the “lend you your own money” scheme, for example, as it relates to the 7 million customers on prepaid meters.

I am concerned about how the Government will respond to what we now know will be an equally steep additional price rise in October under the price cap, with authoritative sources calculating that we are likely to see the average energy bill rise by a further £700 to £2,900 or £3,000. What serious additional measures is the Secretary of State planning to help customers to face that further enormous rise? Might he after all be interested in a windfall tax against those companies that continue to profit enormously from escalating gas prices, which could fund substantial assistance to cope with the next price hike?

I am very happy to answer the hon. Gentleman’s questions. He will know that the next price cap period will be set in August. Even he, with his gifts of prophecy, does not know what the price cap level will be in August. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, we are continually reviewing actual spot markets and what is happening in the market.

The hon. Gentleman will know that nothing could be more damaging to the sector, to people employed in the sector and to the hundreds of thousands of jobs and families dependent on the sector than an arbitrary windfall tax, which would also impoverish many of the people exposed to those companies through their pensions. It is a regressive, retro measure that completely does not understand what business is all about.

Aside from saying that he drives an ageing VW Golf, the Secretary of State is using every excuse possible to try to defend the indefensible. In just a matter of days, the energy price cap will increase by some 700 quid; in just a matter of months, it is anticipated that it will increase by a further £1,000. The Government’s response is 150 quid off council tax and £200 that they say is not a loan, but that is indeed a loan. Energy bills are anticipated to increase 14 times faster than wage increases. How on earth are people supposed to get by?

As I have said, we have a £9.1 billion support package, which was announced only four weeks ago. On top of that, we allocated £500 million of additional relief only last week to help people through this difficult time. One way in which I am afraid bills would go up is if we adopted the insane SNP policy of essentially shutting down North sea oil and having no intention at all to develop nuclear. That would be an utterly irresponsible and highly expensive way of dealing with the current problem.

The Secretary of State does himself no favours by attempting to invent policies that are simply not reflective of the SNP’s position at this moment in time—but this discussion is about energy bills. If someone lives in the north of Scotland, their energy bill standing charge will increase by some 83%; if they live in the south of Scotland, it will increase by 100%; but if they live here in Westminster, in London, it will increase by just 38%. Scotland is energy-rich—oil and gas, wave, wind, tidal, hydro pumped storage. How on earth can the Secretary of State justify the inequity in such pricing?

The hon. Gentleman is indeed correct: Scotland is extremely wealthy in its range of energy sources. That is why we have sought to encourage it through things like the £27 million Aberdeen energy transition zone and the North sea transition deal. We have constantly supported the Scottish energy industry. The hon. Gentleman refers to a report by Ofgem. I speak to it regularly, and we always try to see what we can do to justify and to equalise bills across the UK.

I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has announced that he will publish an energy supply strategy to deal with the UK’s energy requirements for the short, medium and long term. Can the Secretary of the State update the House on when we can expect the strategy to be published?