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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 741: debated on Tuesday 28 November 2023

Energy Security and Net Zero

The Secretary of State was asked—

Household Income: Energy Costs

1. If she will make an estimate of the proportion of households that spent more than 10% of their income on energy costs in (a) 2021 and (b) 2022. (900331)

In England, the share of households required to spend more than 10% of their income on energy after housing costs was 21% in 2021 and 30% in 2022, following the invasion of Ukraine that year. We provided close to £40 billion of energy support to households and businesses last winter, one of the most generous levels in Europe. Since then, we have seen the Ofgem price cap fall from £4,279 at its peak in January 2023 to £1,928 from January 2024.

More than 20% of Rotherham households are living in fuel poverty, yet the Government’s flagship energy policy will not, by their own admission, save a single penny from those households’ energy bills. Bills are set to rise again in January. How can the Minister justify the Government’s appalling failure to act to support my constituents, struggling to heat their homes this winter?

The extra support announced by the Chancellor last week brings our total cost of living support to £104 billion over the period 2022 to 2025. That is one of the largest support packages anywhere in Europe. On top of that, we are providing £900 in cost of living payments across 2023 and 2024 to ensure that support gets to those most in need.

I recently bumped into Christopher Thexton, who is one of the “green doctors” working out of College House in Barrow. He does an amazing job with his team, going into homes to try to help people to save money on their energy bills and reduce the cost of living, whether that is help with energy debt, fixing drafts in their home or even changing the lightbulbs to make them more energy-efficient, but demand is massively outstripping supply. Can my right hon. Friend speak to whether any more support is available to such teams to help people on the ground to reduce their energy bills?

We are spending £20 billion on energy efficiency over this Parliament and the next. We can be proud of the steps we have taken so far. When we took over in 2010, just 14% of homes were energy-efficient. Now the number is 50%, and we have plans to go further.

An estimated 6.3 million households are in fuel poverty across the UK. Ofgem has announced that energy debt has reached £2.6 billion. With millions of people facing another difficult winter, the Government promised to consult on a social tariff to help the most vulnerable. Can the Secretary of State provide an update on that consultation?

People mean many different things by a social tariff, but fundamentally it is about providing people with support to help with their bills. Just in the autumn statement, we have increased the national living wage, which is worth £1,800 to people; increased benefits by 6.7%, which is worth £470; and cut national insurance contributions, which is worth £450. Those are all on top of the £900 cost of living support we already have in place.

Thursday is Fuel Poverty Awareness Day, and recently the Scottish Fuel Poverty Advisory Panel estimated that nearly 30% of households in Scotland are facing extreme fuel poverty, up from 12% in 2019. Does the Secretary of State agree that at the very least that is concerning? Somehow a third of my constituents in the north-east of Scotland—home to a 50-year bonanza for His Majesty’s Treasury—live in energy-rich Scotland but find themselves in fuel poverty. Is that what Unionists mean by pooling and sharing resources?

We have taken energy prices going up incredibly seriously, which is why we have spent £104 billion protecting the British people. That is one of the most generous packages anywhere in Europe. If the hon. Member cares about the incomes of people in Scotland, I suggest that he backs British oil and gas jobs.

Inflation Reduction Act and Low Carbon Industries

2. What recent assessment she has made of the impact of the US Inflation Reduction Act on levels of investment in low carbon industries in the UK. (900332)

In the UK, we have seen nearly £200 billion-worth of investment in low carbon sectors since 2010. That is 50% more than the US as a share of GDP. At the global investment summit just yesterday, it was clear that businesses see Britain very much as open for business, and that was backed up by £29 billion-worth of investment.

In the summer, I heard about President Biden’s plan to use America’s industrial might to power up New York using offshore wind. Given that we need to turbocharge the green economy, why will the Government’s response to the Inflation Reduction Act not come into effect until 2025?

We have taken many steps already. We have set out new plans for auction round 6 of renewable energy and for permanent economy-wide full expensing. We changed planning, and we are unlocking the grid. The fund that the hon. Member mentioned will unlock supply chains across the UK. What have people said? Scottish Renewables has said it is

“a shot in the arm for the sector”.

The Offshore Wind Industry Council has said that it will help us retain our position as a “global leader”. It has been welcomed by Make UK, Energy UK and many other businesses as well.

Last week, the Chancellor’s autumn statement included an important commitment on the Government’s part to bring forward legislation to modernise the Crown Estate’s investment and borrowing powers, which is a vital step for deploying 16 GW of floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea. That will benefit the whole of Wales, and we hope in particular my constituency and the port of Milford Haven. When are the Government likely to bring forward that important legislation?

My right hon. Friend has been a doughty champion for the Celtic sea. He knows that we have a commitment to unlock an additional 12 GW of wind power in the Celtic sea. That is important to us, and we will bring forward the legislation in due course.

Instead of properly responding to America’s Inflation Reduction Act, the Government held a meeting with businesses yesterday—you might not have seen it, Mr Speaker, as it did not make any of the front pages. Was the global investment summit not just a distraction from the same old fundamentals—business confidence is down, exports are down, and growth forecasts are down after 13 years of instability and uncertainty? Does the Secretary of State think that lack of business confidence is because her Government trashed the economy last year, because her Government told business to eff off, or because, as Mark Carney said, the Government have “juvenilised” the climate debate instead of using it as a driver of good jobs? Does she not agree with those from a global pension fund I spoke to this morning who said it is time we got some adults in the room?

What we saw yesterday was £7 billion from Iberdrola for UK electricity networks and renewables, and £300 million from Aira, the heat pump installer. In the last couple of weeks, we have had £500 million from Sea Wind, £2 billion from Nissan, and £186 million from Siemens Gamesa. What the hon. Lady should understand is that there is a difference between what the Government are offering, which is £29 billion of investment, and what Labour is offering, which is £28 billion of borrowing.

Net Zero Targets: Businesses

16. What recent assessment she has made of the adequacy of the contribution of businesses to helping meet the UK's net zero targets. (900346)

As a Yorkshire MP, I resent that remark. [Laughter.]

I meet regularly with business leaders and organisations. I chair or co-chair, among others: the Offshore Wind Industry Council, which I will be going straight to after questions; the solar taskforce; the green jobs delivery group, which met yesterday; the North sea transition forum, which I will attend tomorrow; and, from a strategic cross-cutting point of view, the Net Zero Council. Of course, the Secretary of State and I met global leaders yesterday.

Well, as the Minister seems to meet so many business leaders, he must have heard their shock and horror about the Government’s roll-backs on net zero. Earlier this month, the Aviva chief executive officer Amanda Blanc said that the Government were putting our climate goals as a country “under threat”, putting at risk

“jobs, growth and the additional investment the UK requires”.

She is not wrong, is she?

The hon. Gentleman has a well-founded and highly esteemed reputation for anger. Under this Government, this country has cut its emissions more than any other major economy on the planet, and we have the most ambitious plans for 2030. When I attend COP28 next week, we will be inviting and supporting others to join the UK, which under this Conservative Government has led the way on a pathway to net zero.

The Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre based at Heriot-Watt University in my constituency is doing incredible work on the green transformation across the UK’s industrial heartlands. It is working with all the biggest industrial clusters and is supporting more than 30 universities and research initiatives, looking at all aspects of the Government’s decarbonisation challenge. As such, it is well placed to assist business to meet our net zero targets. The problem is that its funding is coming to an end next March, and at present there is nothing to replace it. The science Minister promised me a meeting about this urgent issue several months ago, but it has been cancelled a number of times. Will the Minister advocate with his colleague so that I can get this meeting arranged and get funding in place for IDRIC to continue its fantastic work?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and for championing vital research, not least in Scotland. I am looking forward to meeting scientists when I am in Scotland over the next couple of days. We have all heard her request, and it will be noted.

My right hon. Friend mentioned that he will go to COP28 next week. Could he remind Members of the House, particularly those on the Opposition Benches, of the measures taken in last week’s autumn statement to help to promote the green energy agenda in this country?

My hon. Friend is quite right. We must never forget the parlous state of this country in 2010. Less than 7% of our electricity came from renewables—that was the legacy of the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). In the first quarter of this year, that was nearly 48%. Opposition Members raised the issue of people being cold and unable to pay their bills, but just 14% of homes were insulated properly; now, it is 50%. In last week’s autumn statement we heard announcements about the grid and—

My constituents put in 10% of the energy into the national grid from two nuclear power stations. We are No. 7 on the template for new builds, so I would like to invite the Under-Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) to come to Heysham to see for himself the good work of EDF and the new nuclear power programme that is coming to my constituency.

My hon. Friend is a stout champion not only of the pathway to net zero but of the jobs and prosperity that come with it. It is with great alacrity that I accept on behalf of my hon. Friend the Minister.

Fuel Poverty

The share of households in fuel poverty in England reduced every year between 2010 and 2021, with energy efficiency being the key driver. Although fuel poverty is devolved, we continue to engage with the devolved Administrations, including on specific schemes such as the energy company obligation and the warm home discount.

Across the world and in the United Kingdom, human rights are being eroded and fuel poverty is on the rise. This Government could address both by declaring access to energy a human right. It would mean that people could not be cut off willy-nilly simply because they could not afford to pay for their energy at that time. Does the Minister agree that energy should be a human right? If not, will she tell me which human beings she believes should not have the right to heat their homes?

As the hon. Lady indicated, the Government take fuel poverty incredibly seriously. Everybody has the right to heat. We have been helping people with their energy bills, including a £900 cost of living allowance, as well as all the great things that we announced in the autumn statement.

Community Energy Schemes

The Government have created a new £10 million community energy fund to support community energy projects in England. We are working with the sector on content and a timetable for a consultation on barriers for community energy projects.

Does the Minister recognise the frustration and disappointment at the length of time and legislative barriers that remain for campaigning community groups who want community energy schemes to move forward? It is the most secure way of generating electricity. The Conservatives are supposed to be the party of free markets and competition, so why are they denying consumers the choice that would come with an exciting community energy scheme?

Far from denying consumers opportunity, we are already beginning to work with organisations, such as the Community Energy Contact Group. On the content of the consultation we launched and whether it should include solutions to barriers, I will need to take a view when it responds.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero earlier mentioned the solar taskforce. Will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary liaise with his colleagues and the National Farmers Union on combining community energy schemes with farmers and the rural sector? The solar taskforce mentions acres of supermarket rooftops being available for solar, but makes no reference to farm buildings. It makes sense that community schemes, working with local farmers in rural areas, can deliver community energy and allow farmers to diversify.

I hear very much what my right hon. Friend says and understand his concerns. It is therefore with equal alacrity that I accept a meeting on my right hon. Friend the Minister’s behalf to discuss those issues moving forward.

Prepayment Meters: Vulnerable Households

6. If she will make an assessment of the impact of the mandatory code of practice for the involuntary installation of prepayment meters on vulnerable households. (900336)

20. If she will make an assessment of the impact of the mandatory code of practice for the involuntary installation of prepayment meters on vulnerable households. (900350)

The Secretary of State and I met CEOs of energy suppliers recently. We emphasised that Ofgem’s new rules must be implemented and lead to improved protections for vulnerable consumers. We are working closely with Ofgem and the industry to ensure that that is the case.

The Minister will be aware that the ban on the involuntary installation of prepayment meters will be lifted soon. That will mean families with children over two years old and pensioners under 75 who are still vulnerable will potentially face the higher cost of prepayment meters. There is the possibility, of course, that when they run out of tokens they will be cut off. Is that right?

First of all, we have been mindful of ensuring that there is no higher cost to prepayment meters. We are mindful of the fact that prepayment meters have a place in certain households, because we are very sure that we must not increase debt. However, one reason why we scrutinised the process so carefully is to ensure that it does not impact negatively on vulnerable customers.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but what is it about the code of practice that means two-year-olds are vulnerable but three-year-olds are not? What is the difference between those households? Why has Scottish Power been able to go to court to obtain warrants to install prepayment meters forcibly before it has been able to demonstrate any compliance with the code? Is that not the wrong way around?

Just for assurance, we have held conversations with Ofgem and suppliers to make sure no forced instalments have taken place yet. We are scrutinising the system to ensure that all vulnerable people are able to access the energy they need.

Onshore Wind Farms

This has been a record year for onshore wind, which is already the largest renewables technology. The latest contract for difference added an unprecedented 1.7 GW.

The Minister seems to be comparing figures I have not seen. If it is a record year, why have we seen such a dramatic drop in planning applications for onshore wind farms and in the number of onshore wind farms delivered? From a peak of 64 applications in 2011, it went right down to zero in 2019 and now to 10 in 2022, the latest figures the House of Commons Library could provide. That does not seem like a record year to me. Is it not time the Government stopped shilly-shallying on onshore wind and backed the builders, not the blockers?

The hon. Lady is renowned in the House for her arithmetic skills, but in this case they seem to have failed her. The 1.7 GW is a tremendous success. I share her enthusiasm for onshore wind where communities support it. In September, the Government announced changes to planning policy for onshore wind in England to help make it easier and quicker for local planning authorities to consider and, where appropriate, approve onshore wind projects where there is local support.

In the Kettering constituency there are 30 large wind turbines. Together with solar panels, they generate enough renewable electricity to power all 45,000 homes in the constituency. Is this not yet another case of where Kettering leads, others follow?

My hon. Friend has championed, does champion and, I am sure, will continue for many years to champion the good people of Kettering, and the fact that they are providing such leadership on net zero and the delivery of renewables after our parlous inheritance from the Labour party. Let us make sure that we never go back to a system in which renewables are not brought on to our grid in the way they are today.

The Minister is being a little shameless with his figures. We really ought to look at what is continuing to happen in England. In England, industry and other bodies warned that the supposed changes to onshore planning restrictions that were announced in September were far too timid to make any real difference to the dearth of new onshore wind.

I recently visited the site in Leighton Buzzard of the only turbine that has been put in place onshore in England since those supposed restrictions were lifted. It turns out that it has been in the planning process since 2014, and is not on a new site anyway. The Department’s renewable energy planning database shows that there are precisely zero new schemes in the pipeline in England. Should the Minister not go away and reconsider the remaining planning and funding restrictions on onshore wind so that it really can get going again?

As I have said, I share the enthusiasm on both sides of the House for onshore wind. The Government have set regulations that require onshore wind developers to consult communities in advance of submitting a planning application, as well as having it consulted on post-submission. We make no apology for rolling out this transformation in renewable technologies in concert with communities, rather than seeking to ride roughshod over them.

AQUIND Interconnector Project

8. When she plans to make a decision on the application for development consent for the proposed AQUIND interconnector project. (900338)

The proposed AQUIND interconnector project is a live planning application currently being redetermined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is progressing the work in the normal course of business. That means that, as set out in the planning propriety guidance, I am unable to give any further information on the progress of this live case.

Portsmouth people have waited far too long for the Government to decide against AQUIND. Will the co-owner’s donation of more than £1 million to the Tories—including £6,000 to the Prime Minister’s constituency party and over £70,000 to the Chancellor—be a factor in the Minister’s decision on what is a disastrous project for Portsmouth?

The Secretary of State is following a well-established planning process. I am sorry that I cannot say any more about this live case beyond what I have said already; it is with the Department and the Secretary of State for a decision.

Climate Change Committee: Progress Report

9. What assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the Climate Change Committee’s 2023 progress report to Parliament. (900339)

The Climate Change Committee itself has said that there was “no material difference” in our overall projections after we made the changes to policies in September. The Government have taken considerable further steps since then, including our introduction of the zero-emission vehicle mandate, our agreement with Tata Steel on industrial electrification in Port Talbot, and reform of electricity grid connections.

The Climate Change Committee has stated that the UK needs to

“regain its international climate leadership”,

but last year the Prime Minister was uninterested in attending COP27. The committee’s recent report to Parliament made it clear that the UK was

“no longer a climate leader”.

Since then we have seen approval for massive oilfields, weakened climate targets, and the resignation of a Minister because the Prime Minister is so “uninterested”. COP28 is days away, and there is still confusion over whether the Government will push for the phasing out of fossil fuels. Given all that, is it not fair to say that the Government are failing to do everything possible to halt the climate breakdown?

The UK has one of the most ambitious climate targets in comparison with any of our international peers. The UN’s emissions gap report, published just last week, shows that the UK is expected to reduce emissions between 2015 and 2030 at the fastest rate in the G20 group. We remain extremely ambitious about climate change. We have over-delivered on all our carbon budgets to date, and the work that has been done shows that we will continue to do so.

The committee’s recent progress report advocated a faster transition to lower-carbon energy. What fiscal and regulatory measures are the Government taking to encourage more capital investment by business in this important area?

We are already taking steps. We have set out new plans for another round of renewable auctions, and we have set out the most radical plans to unlock the electricity grid since the 1950s. We have also launched a new gigafund that will unlock supply chains across all these areas, and we can see that investors are voting with their feet.

When it comes to national and household energy security, ownership matters, as championed by the Co-op party. The Labour party is committed to 1 million owners of UK-produced renewable energy, with 8 GW that will be cheap, green and owned by the people here in the UK, so why will the Government not meet that ambition?

I think the hon. Gentleman’s argument is completely wrong-headed. Let us look at what the UK Government have done since 2010. We now have the first, second, third, fourth and fifth largest offshore wind farms anywhere in the world. As I have said, the plans we have set out meant that yesterday we were able to secure £29 billion of investment into this country. That will drive jobs and prosperity. The Opposition’s plan is to borrow £28 billion, which would only drive up inflation.

Yesterday was Lancashire Day and today is Bedfordshire Day—happy Bedfordshire Day to all Members. It is the job of the Climate Change Committee to be enthusiastic about achieving our net zero goals. It is the responsibility of the Government to be fiscally prudent in achieving that objective. Does my right hon. Friend agree with the Prime Minister that we need to be clear with the British public all the way along about the costs that will be incurred to achieve our net zero ambitions?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is really important that we are honest with the British public. We are pursuing the most ambitious climate targets, but we will do so in a sensible way that protects the economy, grows jobs and investment, and ensures that we can deliver for the country not only on energy security but on our climate change ambitions.

I have to say that I spent the first 40 years of my life in Bedfordshire and I had no idea that Bedfordshire Day was a thing, but happy Bedfordshire Day anyway.

Fifteen years ago, the Labour Government introduced the Climate Change Act 2008, a landmark piece of legislation that has guided climate policy and progress in this country and inspired similar action around the world—admirably led, it has to be said, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). But where is that leadership now? How can the Prime Minister show his face at COP when, in the words of the Climate Change Committee, his entirely cynical backtracking has created

“widespread uncertainty for consumers and the supply chain”,

has increased

“both energy bills and motoring costs”

and made

“Net Zero considerably harder to achieve”?

I think the hon. Lady is putting a lot of words into the Climate Change Committee’s mouth there. What it actually said was that, in terms of emissions, it would make no material difference. As I have said, the UN’s emissions gap report showed just last week that the UK was expected to reduce emissions between 2015 and 2030 at the fastest rate in the G20 group. This is yet more doom and gloom from the Opposition. If we look at what we have actually achieved, we can see that we have the most ambitious targets in the world and we have set out unprecedented levels of detail. We will continue to do so.

Energy Bills Alternative Funds

10. What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the energy bills support scheme alternative fund and the alternative fuel payment alternative fund. (900340)

The Government provide energy bills support through the energy bills support scheme alternative funding to over 150,000 households, and via the alternative fuel payment alternative fund to nearly 90,000 households that could not automatically access this vital support.

Energy bills are up 50% since 2021, but there was no mention of this in the autumn statement and £440 million earmarked for the most vulnerable households went unspent last year, yet in my constituency of Edinburgh West, pensioners, carers and disabled people who often have to use more electricity for life-saving equipment are paying those bigger bills. All of them are also paying higher standing charges than elsewhere in the UK. If the Chancellor will not commit to reopening the energy bills support scheme or the alternative fuel payment scheme, will the Secretary of State do so?

Of course, as a Government we are looking at the standing charges; it is imperative that we do that and Ofgem is working through that. We have also given an unprecedented amount of support to households and non-domestic organisations. I reiterate that there is support at the moment. We have the £900 for the cost of living. We also have the disability allowance and other allowances. To give assurance, I meet regularly with all stakeholders.

National Grid Infrastructure: East of England

11. What discussions she has had with National Grid on its planned timetable for building new substations, pylons and cabling in the east of England. (900341)

I frequently meet the network companies to discuss their important work developing our electricity transmission network. I have also been pleased to meet communities and MPs from East Anglia to discuss concerns about network infrastructure. However, as the decision maker for planning consents, the Department does not get involved in individual projects.

I feel moved to found a Clacton Day. Why not?

I have called for the old Bradwell site on the Dengie peninsula to be used for the arrival of undersea cables, as opposed to wrecking the environment of Essex and other areas with substations, pylons and so on. With the scrapping of High Speed 2 as an example, does my hon. Friend agree that public bodies now need to do a better job of assessing possible alternatives, instead of just barrelling forward with boatloads of taxpayers’ cash and destroying our beautiful countryside?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. As he knows from when we met to discuss this in June, the Electricity System Operator is responsible for planning the design and location of grid reinforcement, while transmission owners develop individual projects. I understand that Bradwell had been assessed but was not deemed appropriate for this project. However, I cannot comment on specific projects, in order to avoid prejudicing planning decisions. I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend again to discuss this in further detail.

Offshore Wind Sector

12. What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on support for workers in the offshore wind sector. (900342)

This Government are proud to have made the UK a global leader in offshore wind, and the industry believes that UK jobs in the sector will rise from the current 30,000-plus to 100,000-plus by 2030—if, of course, Conservative stewardship continues.

Jobs for whom? That is the question. We have already seen the shameful situation of UK seafarers who work in the offshore wind sector being laid off, to be replaced by low-wage, exploited migrant labour. As the sector develops, as we see people go out to work on the turbines for longer and as we see the building of floating accommodation for them to stay on, there is a huge risk that those workers—not just those on the supply ships—will also face exploitation. Will the Minister work with Cabinet colleagues to ensure that the national minimum wage applies in the offshore sector beyond the 12-mile territorial limit? That is the solution to protect our workers, and those from abroad, from being exploited.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and I share his enthusiasm for making sure that we continue the development of good, well-paid jobs, and the development of the skills required to help people access those jobs, and that we do not have exploitation onshore or offshore during that development. It is a huge opportunity for the United Kingdom and for Scotland. Working together, I am sure we can develop it.

As we know from the excellent Rampion wind farm in Sussex bay—hopefully it will soon be expanded—offshore wind farms support workers not just in energy production but in tourism, fishing and leisure too. This year we celebrate 50 years of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. It is estimated that there are more than 6,000 wrecks around the UK coast, but only 57 of them are listed, so will my right hon. Friend speak to his colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about how we can co-ordinate activity between new wind farms and marine archaeologists so that we can boost both our efforts to combat climate change and our cultural protection, which will give particular assistance to coastal communities?

As ever, my hon. Friend puts his finger on an important point. Existing assets such as wrecks have so many uses, all of which need to be understood. Our seas look so large, but they have multiple uses for shipping, defence and energy. We are working to ensure that we have a strategic, joined-up energy plan and a spatial strategy so that wrecks, marine protected areas and other interests can all be protected in an integrated manner.

Energy Bills Support: Shropshire

The Government are continuing to provide up to £900 of cost of living support throughout 2023-24 to help vulnerable households, which is an increase on the £650 that we provided the previous year, as well as targeted support such as £150 through the warm home discount.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Farmers in my constituency and the neighbouring Ludlow constituency are among the most productive in the United Kingdom and, speaking as one of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys, we are very proud of their contribution to British exports. At the moment, they are rather adversely affected by rising energy costs. What additional assistance will the Government give to the agricultural sector to help this very important industry survive?

My hon. Friend is a champion for Shropshire and for the farming industry. Farmers in Shropshire constituencies and across the UK have already benefited from the energy bill relief scheme, which ended on 31 March and provided more than £7.4 billion of support.

I wish to welcome Faroese politicians who are here watching today. In the past year, the energy bills support scheme alternative fund was set up to help 900,000 households. As the Minister said earlier, only about 150,000—141,000, in fact—got the £400 promised, which means that 750,000 eligible households missed out on their £400. With one in four bill payers now in energy debt, will the Government keep their promise and make good to those 750,000 who missed out on that money when the scheme closed in May?

As I stated, the alternative fund was an incredible support and provided households with that support. The Government lent in to try to ensure that everyone who was entitled to the funding was able to receive it. Now that the scheme has closed, the money will return to His Majesty’s Treasury.

Energy-intensive Industries

The Government have committed £20 billion to support early development of CCUS—carbon capture, usage and storage—and £500 million to the industrial energy transformation fund to help industry to decarbonise, with phase 3 expected to open for applications in early 2024.

We are still waiting for a lot of that to happen. The Tees Valley hosts a huge number of energy-intensive industries, but we have lost many of them over the years—a few years ago it was steelmaking, but more recently we saw the demise of the Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Company at Darlington, which built the Sydney harbour bridge. The last ammonia manufacturing plant in the country, that of CF Fertilisers, closed its doors this year, as did Mitsubishi’s Cassel works, with both citing that their energy costs were way higher than those of their European and American competitors. What are Ministers going to do to ensure that we do not have any more closures as a result of their policy failures?

It is a shame that the hon. Gentleman could not find it within himself to congratulate Mayor Ben Houchen on all the work he is doing to bring steelmaking back to the Tees Valley for the first time in a generation. The Government are engaging with the steel industry on a sustainable future, as announced on 15 September. Tata Steel expects to invest £1.25 billion, including a UK Government grant worth up to £500 million, in a new electric arc furnace. Frankly, the hon. Gentleman should start talking up the Tees Valley.

Sheffield has a proud history of steelmaking, so much so that we are known globally as the “steel city.” To this day, steel supports thousands of jobs in Sheffield, but repeated failures by this Government mean that more and more families are worried about the future of this key industry and the livelihoods that depend on it. Will the Minister commit to giving this vital sector the support it needs to decarbonise in a fair way, while ensuring that the industry has a green, sustainable and prosperous future?

I thank the hon. Lady for that question and, yes, I can give that commitment, because we are already engaging in that work. We are working with companies up and down the UK to ensure that they are able to decarbonise and deliver secure, high-wage, high-skilled jobs into the future, which will be the backbone of this economy as we move forward.

First, let me thank the Government for the support they give for CCUS, and not least the Acorn project in my constituency. Does my hon. Friend agree that CCUS needs to be developed across the UK at pace? Does he recognise the particular value of new CCUS power stations, such as the planned project in Peterhead in my constituency, which will generate more than 900 MW and, in conjunction with the Acorn project, will do so 95% emission-free?

Yes, I thank my hon. Friend and congratulate him on his relentless efforts to decarbonise the North sea and the north-east of Scotland, and his support for the Acorn project. I was pleased to join him and the Prime Minister at the announcement on that in the summer. As my hon. Friend knows, CCUS is a priority for this Government, and we are progressing at pace. Power CCUS will be a vital component of our route to net zero, which is why we are committed to supporting at least one power CCUS plant by the mid-2020s.

The Government are taking significant steps to support industrial clusters around the UK. They are each at a different stage of development and much of the technology is emerging as we speak, but the 2030 target is quite close and the scale of investment runs into billions of pounds. What engagement is my hon. Friend undertaking to discuss investment plans with individual businesses, to ensure that they meet the target and use the latest available technologies?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that investment is key to delivering our ambitious plans, which is why the Secretary of State was at the global investment summit yesterday. Working with the Department for Business and Trade and the Minister for Investment, we are engaging with companies on a daily basis, inspecting their investment plans to ensure they are fit for this country and the future, and will deliver the ambitious, world-leading targets we have set ourselves to decarbonise and provide the jobs of the future for this country.

Household Energy Efficiency

15. If she will make an estimate of the number of households that had energy efficiency measures installed in (a) 2010 and (b) 2022. (900345)

In 2010, 960,000 measures were installed. In 2022, around 200,000 measures were installed. In 2010, Government schemes were aimed at low-cost, easy-to-install measures. In 2022, our funding schemes focused on high-cost measures.

Upgrading homes to energy performance certificate band C would create a huge economic and social boost to Britain. In my constituency of Chester more than half of homes are below EPC C and almost 20% of the housing stock is classed as historic, as it was built before 1919. What plans does the Department have to upskill the workforce and speed up the roll-out of energy efficient homes, including historic buildings, such as the ones in my constituency?

The hon. Lady makes a good point about upskilling the workforce. Good progress has been made and around half of all homes will now reach the Government’s ambition of EPC C by 2035, compared with just 14% in 2010.

Offshore Wind: East of England

17. Whether she is taking steps to support the development of an offshore grid for wind farm energy in the east of England. (900347)

Grid reinforcement is critical to delivering our world leading offshore wind targets. The electricity system operator is responsible for designing a modern grid that uses a mix of upgraded existing lines, offshore transmission networks and new underground and overhead lines to bring this low-cost, homegrown generation to consumers.

My constituents are angry about the ill-thought-out proposal by National Grid to impose 100 miles of pylons and overhead powerlines between Norwich and Tilbury. Will the Minister share with me, the House and my constituents what work he is doing to ensure that the Government do all they can to encourage National Grid and developers to build an offshore grid that will provide more investment and growth in renewables, and pull the plug on these awful pylons?

As my right hon. Friend knows, I visited East Anglia a few months ago and I plan to visit again. I hear the frustration and the concerns of her constituents, which she has brought to the House today. As she knows, the ESO remains responsible for electricity network design. Offshore routing is more expensive and the costs would be borne by consumers across the country. However, we will continue to engage with the ESO as it develops proposals that strike the balance of offshore and onshore infrastructure.

I call the spokesperson for the Scottish National party, who must have a great connection with the east of England.

It comes as a great relief that the Minister is listening, certainly to my constituents and his own. There are extraordinary levels of cheap green Scottish renewable energy transmitted to large consumers in industrial bases in the south by the network. This north-south transaction should rightly be done by subsea transmission cables, negating the need for onshore pylons and their attendant visual blight, environmental degradation, loss of productive farmland, costly compulsory purchase and wayleave charges. Why are Angus and other Scottish communities now threatened with a new 400 kV pylon line, instead of transmitting that energy south using subsea methods?

I think there would have been better questions. Time is a bit tight, but please answer the question, Minister.

The hon. Gentleman should probably direct that question to my Scottish Government counterparts, who are in the same party as him. He wants to ride roughshod over the Scottish planning system to allow for a faster deployment of this new energy infrastructure across Scotland, including in his and my own constituencies. The Scottish Government have control over planning, the ESO have control over developing those plans and—

Topical Questions

Since my last appearance at departmental questions in September, we have shown that Britain remains open for business. Through our announcement on AR6, we have taken the next steps towards 50 GW of offshore wind energy. We have announced £960 million of investment in advanced manufacturing for key net zero sectors, including offshore wind networks, carbon capture, usage and storage, hydrogen and nuclear. We have set out the most radical plans to update the grid since the 1950s. I have signed a memorandum of understanding with South Korea to ensure closer co-operation on nuclear and offshore wind, bringing in £10 billion as well.

Given the success of exempting the ceramics sector from the climate change levy, and the risks of carbon leakage from offshoring the industry, will my right hon. Friend seriously consider exempting the ceramics sector from the emissions trading scheme?

I know that my hon. Friend is a long-standing champion of the ceramics sector. The sector receives free allocations under the ETS, reducing carbon price exposure and mitigating its risk of carbon leakage. The Government are reviewing the free allocations policy and will consult this year to ensure that we effectively support at-risk industries.

The world sorely needs leadership at COP28, but the verdict of our most globally respected climate expert, Lord Stern, earlier this month was damning. He said that the Government’s backsliding on climate action is a “deeply damaging mistake”—damaging for the UK, the world and the future of us all. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to place on record her response to Lord Stern?

The right hon. Gentleman should understand that we have the most ambitious climate target of any of our international peers. If he looks at the delivery today, he will see that we overshot on carbon budgets 1 and 2, and we are on track to overshoot on carbon budget 3. In fact, the UN gap report showed just last week that between 2015 and 2030 the UK is expected to reduce emissions at the fastest rate of any of the G20 countries.

The Secretary of State has no response to Lord Stern. The problem is that he sees a Government preaching one thing and doing another. Her negotiators at COP will argue to phase out fossil fuels, but she wants to drill every last drop at home and open new coalmines. She will tell developing countries that climate action is good for the economy, but the Government use climate delay to divide people here at home. Does she not realise that climate hypocrisy just trashes our reputation and undermines our leadership?

I completely reject that characterisation. At COP28, we will be talking about the UK’s leadership when it comes to cutting emissions. We had cut emissions more than any of our international peers by 1990. Even if we look forward to our targets for 2030, we see that we will still be cutting emissions by more than any of our international peers. That is something that the right hon. Gentleman would do well to welcome.

T2. Paragraph 3.10.14 of the National Policy Framework Statement EN-3 states that new solar farms should avoid the use of “‘best and most versatile’ agricultural land where possible”,using the designations of the agricultural land classifications. But there are concerns that field surveys can artificially downgrade land. Will my right hon. Friend say that both she and the planning inspectorate will be vigilant in protecting best and most versatile land and in ensuring the integrity of land classification? (900358)

I thank my hon. Friend for all his work championing both this area and the concerns of his constituents. As he rightly says, planning policy and guidance encourage large solar projects to locate on previously developed or lower value land and we will indeed undertake to be vigilant in ensuring that those principles are respected.

T4. Given the UK’s decline under this Government to seventh place behind the US and Germany in attracting green investment as per Ernst and Young’s analysis, what urgent steps is the Secretary of State taking to boost our competitiveness in green industries? (900360)

The hypocrisy and the ignorance coming from the Labour party is extraordinary. We have decarbonised more than any major economy on this earth and we will decarbonise more to 2030, and we are doing it by unlocking a level of investment into renewable energy double that we have seen in the United States. So, Labour can take its selective facts and put them where the sun don’t shine.

I think that we have had a few problems with language already. I am sure the Minister will think carefully before he answers again.

T5. What plans do the UK Government have to buy the Wylfa site and associated intellectual property from Horizon to expedite gigawatt development at Wylfa in my constituency of Ynys Môn? Will the nuclear roadmap lay out a clear role for large gigawatt-scale nuclear projects like Wylfa after Sizewell C? (900361)

It would not be Energy questions without a question on Wylfa from my hon. Friend, who is such a champion for that technology and for her constituency. We all agree that Wylfa is a great candidate for new nuclear and one of several potential sites that could host new projects—[Interruption.] Ignore the luddites on the SNP Benches. As a first step towards a new national policy statement, the Government will consult later this year on a way forward to determine how new nuclear developments might be located.

T6. In energy-rich Scotland, roughly one in three households in my constituency is living in fuel poverty. A properly designed social tariff would at least alleviate some of that poverty. Why have the Government broken their promise of a year ago to consult on a social tariff? (900362)

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State indicated earlier, a social tariff can mean different things to different people. We are consulting suppliers and many stakeholders to ensure that what we are doing is the right thing. We are also looking at flexibility around the warm home discount.

T7. In February, the Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero assured me from the Dispatch Box that a decision on hydrogen blending was coming soon. Seven months later, in September, the Department’s consultation again promised that a decision would come soon. How can our constituents trust that this Government know what they are doing when they keep dithering over proven technology that would cut our carbon emissions, our constituents’ energy bills and our dependence on foreign gas imports? (900363)

The Government aim to reach a strategic policy decision before the end of the year on whether to support blending of up to 20% hydrogen by volume into the GB gas distribution networks. We are building the evidence to determine whether blending offers strategic and economic value and meets the required safety standards.

T8. On the subject of facts, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) just said that there are currently zero planning applications in the pipeline for onshore wind in England. Can the Minister please confirm whether that is true? (900364)

As I have said in earlier answers, we are seeking to encourage more applications. As far as I know, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) may be right, which is exactly why we are consulting on improving community benefits and have consulted on changing the planning system.

I welcome the fact that the UK is doing more offshore wind than any other country in Europe, but fishermen in Leigh-on-Sea are deeply concerned about the effect of expanding offshore on fish stocks. Can the Minister assure me that renewable power production on the south Essex coast will also focus on tidal, and will he join my vision to make Southend pier a shining beacon of renewables, completely powered by tidal energy?

I share my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for tidal. We have had a specific pot in previous rounds of the CfD precisely to develop that. We are the world leader in deployment and will continue to be, and I hope that her vision for her local area will be fulfilled.

T9. Over the past year, the north-east has seen a dramatic collapse in the number of homes being upgraded through the Government’s sustainable warmth and eco schemes. That poor record is costing households in my constituency dearly. What is the Minister going to do to put it right? (900365)

I have previously answered questions on that and indicated that we have committed to making sure that we eradicate fuel poverty and support all people with their energy bills.

With organisations such as the Dalton Nuclear Institute and the University of Bolton Institute for Materials Research and Innovation, combined with the Greater Manchester vision for “Atom Valley”, will my hon. Friend update the House on the part that it will play in Britain’s nuclear future?

I thank my hon. Friend for his continued support for this growing and important sector. Alongside the work of the nuclear skills taskforce, we are currently in phase B of our advanced modular reactor research, development and demonstration programme. We aim to demonstrate that technology by the 2030s to decarbonise industry and we welcome his support in that work.

As part of the recent floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme, ambitious and comprehensive bids for funding to support developments by three major industry players on the Tyne were unsuccessful. Will the Minister meet me and those key Tyne businesses to discuss what further opportunities the Department can bring to mobilise the high-quality assets of our great river?

The Government are collaborating with industry to identify solutions to unblock barriers to offshore wind deployment. I know that the UK Infrastructure Bank is providing support to the Port of Tyne. The FLOWMIS project is currently live, so I cannot comment on it, but I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss these issues.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made a lot of progress in trying to bring together a holistic network, but it is too late for communities in Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex. In that regard, will she request that the electricity system operator publishes its survey of the Bradwell site, and that it undertakes a fresh one, with a full cost-benefit analysis, as a pilot for future connections?

As my right hon. Friend knows, the ESO has conducted an investigation into Bradwell and its suitability, but I am happy to meet her again to discuss Bradwell, the location of future projects, and how we might work together to ensure that her constituents see the benefits of any future energy infrastructure built in that part of the country.

It now seems clear that the funds that the Government plan to commit to loss and damage at COP28 will come from the UK’s existing climate finance commitments. We cannot tackle the climate crisis by robbing Peter to pay Paul. Given that a properly resourced and operational loss and damage finance fund has to be a litmus test of success, will the Minister commit to looking at new and additional forms of funding, including a permanent windfall tax on fossil fuel companies and a tax on high-emission travel, to deliver new finance and make polluters pay?

The hon. Lady is right to highlight loss and damage as we approach COP28. We were pleased to play our part on the transitional committee in getting a recommendation to COP, and we look forward to its being operationalised in the near future. I agree with her that, if we are to get the scale of finance that is required, particularly for the most vulnerable countries at the front end, we need to look at innovative ways of adding to that finance.

Wind energy projects have a standard compensation scheme for all local communities, but solar projects do not. Industry will not act, so I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to bring in a standard measure for all solar projects to bring fairness to clean energy in our communities.

I thank my hon. Friend for her question and for pursuing this matter assiduously; we have met and discussed it, among other issues. I think both industry and communities would appreciate greater clarity about community benefits, and I look forward to discussing that with her further.

One in four households in my constituency is now living in fuel poverty, compared with the national average of one in 10. Why do the Government continue to give millions to gas and oil giants, which enjoy billions in bumper profits, while our constituents continue to be dragged into poverty?

Regrettably, the content of so many Opposition Members’ questions this morning is absolutely not in line with reality. Oil and gas production in the UK not only typically has lower emissions than the alternative of imports, but supports 200,000 jobs, all of which would be at risk if the Labour party came to power. To answer the hon. Gentleman’s specific question, it is expected to raise £50 billion of tax over the next five years, all of which—including the safety of his constituents—would be at risk if Labour ever came to power.

Do my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Minister for Nuclear and Networks, my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), agree that the very best location for two 470 MW Rolls-Royce small modular reactors is next to Sellafield, which will use some of the power and is a centre of nuclear excellence?

My hon. Friend is another great champion for nuclear. It gave me great pleasure to visit her constituency just a few weeks ago to see the great work being done at Sellafield. As we have set out, we aim to deploy up to 24 GW of nuclear energy by 2050, and we remain open to all available technologies that will deliver it. We are developing a new national policy statement that will provide the planning framework for new nuclear power beyond 2025. We are consulting on a proposed way forward for determining how new nuclear developments might be located.

This year, receipts from the emissions trading scheme will reach a new peak of £6.2 billion. The effects of attacks on energy-intensive industries are felt by workers in the aluminium and steel industries, and this week by workers at Grangemouth, where one of our few remaining oil refineries is going to close. Despite what the Minister said earlier, is it not a fact that, rather than helping energy-intensive industries, net zero policies are destroying them and sending them overseas?

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the EU has already legislated for a carbon border adjustment mechanism. Following our hosting of COP26, 90% of global wealth was covered by net zero pledges. At the beginning of that conference, the figure was just 30%. The right hon. Gentleman may not see it, but this is the direction the world is going in, and if he wants to future-proof British jobs he will get with the decarbonisation programme. Opposing it is to oppose the interests of his constituents and the sustainability of their of their jobs.

Melton CLP has of the biggest sites in Hyndburn and Haslingden. The renewables obligation certificate is due to end in 2027, and certainty is needed on whether the scheme will be extended or another scheme will take its place. Will the Minister give us some assurances as to what comes next?

Mindful of how loquacious I am, I simply say to my hon. Friend that I will meet her to discuss the matter.

Over the space of a year, living in a cold home cost 21 of my constituents their lives. One reason behind that tragic figure is that homes in rural communities are more difficult to insulate. On that basis, will the Minister urgently review the ECO4 and ECO+ guidelines to prioritise the hardest properties to insulate so that we cut bills and save lives?

Of course it is always a tragedy to hear such figures. I have regular meetings with the hon. Gentleman and I will have a meeting to discuss this issue further, because this Government are committed to supporting all vulnerable people, including all those who have disabilities and additional needs.