Tuesday 19th April 2022

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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18:41
Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Kwasi Kwarteng)
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With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the British energy security strategy.

Our strategy provides a clear, long-term plan to accelerate our transition away from expensive fossil fuel prices set by global markets we cannot control. It builds on our success over the past decade in which we gave the go-ahead to the first nuclear power plant in a generation and achieved a fivefold increase in renewables. The British energy security strategy marks a significant acceleration in our ambition. It is confirmation of three mutually reinforcing goals of our energy policy and, indeed, of any well-constituted energy policy: security, affordability and sustainability.

We recognise the pressures that many people across our country are facing with the cost of living. This has been greatly influenced, as we all know, by global factors. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a £9 billion package of support, including a £150 council tax rebate this month and a £200 energy bill discount in October to cut energy bills quickly for the vast majority of households. We are also expanding the eligibility for the warm home discount, which will provide around 3 million low-income and vulnerable households across England and Wales with a £150 rebate on their energy bills this winter. As I speak, our energy price cap is still protecting millions of consumers from even higher wholesale spot gas prices. Furthermore, we are investing over £6 billion in decarbonising the nation’s homes and buildings—set out very clearly in last year’s heat and buildings strategy—which saves the lowest-income families around £300 a year on their bills. I want to reassure the House that the Chancellor has promised to review his package of support before October and will decide on an appropriate course of action at that time.

Cheap renewables are our best defence against fluctuations in global gas prices. By 2030, 95% of our electricity will be produced by low-carbon means. By 2035, we aim to have fully decarbonised our electricity system. We will double down on every available technology. The strategy sets out a new ambition to propel our offshore wind industry. It will increase the pace of deployment to deliver 50 GW by 2030, instead of the 40 GW committed to in the manifesto. Of that 50 GW, up to 5 GW will be floating offshore wind. The strategy also commits us to slash approval times for new offshore wind farms from four years to one year. We also feel—this is reflected in the strategy—that our solar capacity can grow by up to five times by 2035.

As is well known, most of Britain’s nuclear fleet will be decommissioned this decade. We need to replace what we are losing, but we also need to go further. From large-scale plants to small nuclear modular reactors, we aspire to provide a steady baseload of power that will complement renewable technology. Obviously, the right time to take those decisions would have been 20 years ago, but of course the Labour party all but killed off the British nuclear industry. That is why we will be reversing decades of under-investment and building back British nuclear. We aim to deliver up to 24 GW of nuclear power by 2050, approximately three times more than today, which will represent 25% of our projected energy demand.

We are also doubling our ambition for low-carbon hydrogen production. The capacity we aim to reach by 2030 is 10 GW, with at least half of that total coming from green, electrolyser-produced hydrogen. This fuel will not only provide cleaner energy for vital British industries to move away from fossil fuels, but will also be used for storage, trains, heavy equipment and generating heat. The transition to cheap, clean power cannot happen overnight. Those calling for an immediate end to domestic oil and gas ignore the fact that it would simply make the UK more reliant on foreign imports. It would not, in fact, lead to greater decarbonisation globally.

Producing more of our own energy will protect us into the future. We feel that this historic change, this decarbonisation challenge, represents a huge opportunity for the United Kingdom: more wind, more solar and more nuclear, while also using North sea gas to transition to cheaper and cleaner power. This is a long-term plan to ensure greater energy independence and to attract hundreds of billions of private investment to back new industries that can create hundreds of thousands of high-quality jobs and stimulate business across the UK. This is not only a matter of reaching net zero, vital as that is, but an issue of national security. These are all objectives that everyone across the House, I am sure, shares. We all wish to see a homegrown clean energy system that will protect our people into the future, create good clean jobs, attract private investment and, above all, drive down bills for the British people. I commend this statement to the House.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Order. Before I call Ed Miliband, I would just like to say that we are going to move on from this statement at 7.20 pm, so a lot of people are going to be disappointed. Can you please focus on asking a question without any preludes, so that we can get as many people in as we possibly can?

18:49
Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab)
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I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, but I have to tell him that after all the hype and all the promises, his energy relaunch fails to live up remotely to the scale of the crisis that families are facing. The Government have already failed to deliver the immediate measures needed to help millions of families with their energy bills this year, and they now have an energy security strategy that has rejected the measures that could have made the most difference in the years ahead. It fails to seize the moment on the two most elementary tests of any decent green energy sprint—that is, going all-in on the cheapest forms of home-grown power, such as onshore wind, which remarkably, was not even mentioned in his statement, and finally delivering on the biggest no-brainer when it comes to an energy strategy: energy efficiency.

Hon Members do not need to take my word for it. We know from all the briefings and interviews that the Secretary of State gave before the relaunch that he has failed to deliver what he wanted. We know that he wanted a hard target to double onshore wind by 2030 and to treble it by 2035, because we have the earlier version of the document in which there were those targets. The Secretary of State was right because the ban on onshore wind that the Government introduced in 2015 has driven up bills for consumers. What did he say 10 days before the relaunch? He said that he wanted to see a major “acceleration” in onshore wind. The Prime Minister was said to be “horrified” at the delays, but when we got the document, we saw that there was no target, no plan and more imports and higher bills as a result of his failure. Perhaps he can tell us what the nasty accident was that befell the earlier version of his strategy.

On solar, let us be clear that the Government destroyed the solar industry with their decisions in 2015, abolishing the feed-in tariff. In this document, we see weak and vague language—it is even weaker, the House will be interested to know, than in the original version of the document, which is pretty weak in itself. Will the Secretary of State explain why there is no firm target for 2030 and a retreat on large-scale solar?

Let us take energy efficiency next, the biggest failure of all. We know that the Secretary of State wanted extra resources for energy efficiency, because he helpfully briefed the media to that effect. He was right, because that would immediately cut bills, imports and fuel poverty, but again, he failed. There is not a penny more for energy efficiency in this document. Even the Secretary of State’s Minister, Lord Callanan—we have to admire his candour—said on the day:

“It would have been good to go further but, regrettably, that was not possible in this case.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 April 2022; Vol. 820, c. 2196.]

Will the Secretary of State tell us why the Government are failing to deliver when the economic, social and climate case is so overwhelming?

The Government’s failures on onshore wind, solar and energy efficiency matter because they are not just the cheapest and cleanest responses to the crisis that we face, but the quickest to deliver. That is why E.ON, the energy company, said of the strategy, that

“there is little in today’s announcement that will deliver…this decade, let alone this year.”

Why? Because the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister caved in to Back Benchers who dislike green energy and a Chancellor who refuses to make the green investments that the country needs. They cannot deliver a green energy sprint because they face both ways on green energy and simply will not make the public investment that we need.

On the other elements of the strategy, we support more ambition on hydrogen and offshore wind. On the latter, however, there are real questions about the investment required in the grid; perhaps the Secretary of State will respond to that point.

On new nuclear, the last Labour Government identified a whole series of sites for new nuclear. The Government have had 12 years in power and they have not completed a single power station.

Of course, the North sea has a role to play in the transition, but will the Secretary of State explain how maximising North sea oil and gas is consistent with all the advice from the International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on limiting global warming to 1.5°?

On fracking, which the Secretary of State was also too embarrassed to mention, why commission another review rather than having the courage to say out loud what he believes: that fracking is outdated, will make no difference to prices and is unsafe, unpopular and should have no part in our future energy system?

In conclusion, the truth is that this cobbled-together energy relaunch does nothing on the cost of living and fails to deliver the green sprint that we needed. When it comes to the solutions to energy security, energy bills and the climate crisis, the Secretary of State has shown once again that the Government cannot deliver what the national interest demands.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I am pleased, in this Easter season, when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, that the right hon. Gentleman is back in his place. I thought that he had disappeared for a bit, but it is very good to see him again spinning out the same lines.

Let me deal with some of his accusations. There is plenty about onshore wind in the strategy. The one thing that we say about onshore wind—unlike the right hon. Gentleman’s position—is that it has to be pursued in the context of local community support. We have always had that position and have not moved away from it. People also say, “What about the energy efficiency measures?” He will remember that we had a whole document at the end of last year devoted to energy efficiency—it was called the heat and buildings strategy. He and the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) kept asking month after month, “When will the heat and buildings strategy come out?” It did come out and it addressed precisely the energy efficiency issues that he wished it to.

On nuclear—this is the last thing I will say about the remarks from the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband)—his attempt to pretend that the last Labour Government somehow made us more secure on nuclear is laughable. That did not happen. They were notorious for doing nothing to promote the nuclear industry. They were rather like our Scottish National party friends, who are at least honest about their position—they do not want nuclear. I am still not sure what he believes about nuclear, but we are driving forward nuclear and we are delighted to make it the centrepoint of our strategy.

Mark Jenkinson Portrait Mark Jenkinson (Workington) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend is right to point out that the Labour party destroyed Britain’s nuclear industry by failing to build new nuclear projects while in office. Labour is famous for selling off the family gold, but it also sold off cupboards full of silverware, including the UK Atomic Energy Authority Ltd, a very profitable nuclear company. Will my right hon. Friend update us on our new nuclear company, Great British Nuclear, its remit for new nuclear power stations and what that might mean for Moorside in Cumbria?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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The development vehicle that we have announced in the strategy will inaugurate a new era for the nuclear industry. If hon. Members speak to anybody in the industry, they will hear people say that no Government in the past 25 years have been so positive and enthusiastic about nuclear power. There will be a great future and that represents a great endorsement for the skills and the industry that my hon. Friend has so ably promoted in the House.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
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Clearly, this is not a strategy at all, but a series of high-level targets or rehashed information that the Government have spoken about several times. The reality is that the 2022 energy price cap is 75% higher than the April 2021 price cap, putting 6.5 million UK households into fuel poverty. People are going to die and yet there was no additional support announced to alleviate fuel poverty. How many fuel-poor households does the Secretary of State think is acceptable in modern-day Britain? Will he confirm that less than a third of his £9 billion support package is actually direct money from the Treasury that will not be clawed back?

Charities and energy companies alike are calling for much greater investment in energy efficiency, so why is there no additional funding for that? I am pleased that no new money has been announced for the Secretary of State’s nuclear fantasy. Does he stand by the impact assessment that states that the cost of a new nuclear power station, including capital finance, is as high as £63 billion?

The Government have included a blue hydrogen target, so why is the Acorn carbon capture and storage cluster still a reserve? Why is there no additional funding to match the doubling of the green hydrogen target? The 50 GW offshore wind target is very welcome, but what is the Secretary of State doing to upgrade the offshore transmission network strategy and to take account of the ScotWind leasing round? When, oh when, will they remove the iniquity of the transmission charges that prejudice Scotland, and does he understand the concerns about the new nodal pricing proposal that has been announced?

When will the Secretary of State get to grip with a funding mechanism for pumped storage hydro, so that SSE can get on and complete the Coire Glas project? If the new dash for oil and gas is to provide energy security, will the Secretary of State advise what percentage of North sea oil and gas gets traded and exported and how much goes abroad for refining?

Finally, will the Secretary of State commit to working with the Treasury to publish figures showing how much in additional oil and gas revenues, how much additional VAT from our energy bills and how much additional VAT on the petrol prices increase it has received, so that we can see the Treasury windfall that has happened during this cost of living crisis?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his barrage of questions; I will try to answer a few of them. His position on nuclear and mine could not be more different, and I am very glad that he is honest and frank about nuclear. I still do not understand what his answer is on decarbonised baseload, in terms of security of supply, but I am grateful for his honesty. He will know that the transmission charges are a matter for Ofgem, and I would be very happy to speak to him and Ofgem about how we can move forward on that.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Order. Don’t forget: we want short questions and short responses, please.

Andrea Leadsom Portrait Dame Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend is aware that the Back-Bench committee on business, energy and industrial strategy has done a very swift and urgent inquiry into how businesses and households can reduce their energy bills this winter. Will he and the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change meet me and my vice-chairs to discuss some of the very sensible and practical measures in the inquiry?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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Absolutely. I always want to take the opportunity to commend the great work that my right hon. Friend did when she headed the Department, when I was Energy Minister. We are really continuing in that vein. The Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change and I will be delighted to meet her and her committee to discuss ideas that will give us security, affordability and sustainability.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)
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This morning, at the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, I was moved to tears listening to the chief executives of the energy companies telling us how horrific it is going to be for the public and vulnerable people to pay their bills. Now it will be fine and for the summer they will have increases, but in October it is going to be terrible. A short-term fix is not good enough—the people in this country deserve better. We deserve a long-term fix to our prices. The cost of living is extortionate, and the Secretary of State needs to help.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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As I said in my statement, we are fully aware of the pressure on people’s household bills: it is a really, really extreme issue and we want to deal with it. I also said that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will look at the matter again in October and see whether measures are appropriate. The hon. Lady will know that the price cap is set in August, so there is still a long period before we can work out what it is. It is a matter for Ofgem, and we are waiting to see what level it is set at in August.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend is well aware of the expertise and expansion in offshore renewables, hydrogen and carbon capture in northern Lincolnshire and the wider region. Does he agree that we could focus on exporting? We have great skill in financial management, planning and construction. Is he working with the Department for International Trade to expand our exports?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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My hon. Friend makes a remarkable and interesting point. He will remember that just over two years ago, I visited Grimsby and saw him and many other local MPs, and we talked about the investment and the opportunities. I am very pleased that two and a half years later we have realised a lot of those ambitions. There is still a long way to go, but it is absolutely right to think of exporting our expertise, our talent and our sheer manufacturing ingenuity around the world. I am delighted to support him in that.

Darren Jones Portrait Darren Jones (Bristol North West) (Lab)
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It was reported that there were no further announcements on the strategy for home insulation because when the Secretary of State asked the Chancellor to use £300 million of departmental underspend for that project, the Chancellor said no. Is that true or false?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I do not remember that particular incident, but the hon. Gentleman will know that energy efficiency was the centrepiece of the heat and buildings strategy, which he welcomed only at the end of last year.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)
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I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The commitment to solar is vital, but does the Secretary of State recognise that food security is as important as energy security? Every building, every warehouse and every commercial enterprise should be covered in solar before a single acre of valuable arable land is consumed by solar farms.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I would be very interested to hear my right hon. Friend’s views on solar. I think solar is crucial. I am delighted that we have so many former Energy Ministers in the Chamber today; my right hon. Friend was a very distinguished holder of the post, and I am very pleased to engage with him on this important subject.

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)
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The triple test of the strategy is whether it helps to cut dependence on Russian gas, whether it brings down bills and whether it secures a safe climate. It manages to fail on all those fronts. It also has a massive hole where energy saving should be.

It has been reported today that the Government are considering scrapping green levies, which support renewables and address fuel poverty, as the Secretary of State knows, and which therefore help to get fuel bills down. Can he reassure me that that rumour is false and that any changes made will simply be about moving those levies to general taxation—or will this be another policy led by a handful of Tory Back Benchers?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I engage with Front-Bench and Back-Bench colleagues all the time and they have lots of brilliant ideas. I do not recognise the hon. Lady’s characterisation of the strategy; I think it does deliver on security, it does deliver on longer-term affordability and it does deliver on the sustainable net zero targets that many in this House agree with.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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One of the hurdles that families face when they look at putting in a heat pump or investing in home insulation is that they cannot afford the up-front costs to get the long-term gains. The enterprise investment scheme has been extremely successful in encouraging investment in entrepreneurship, which has a somewhat similar cash-flow profile, so will my right hon. Friend have a word with the Chancellor about whether we can implement a net zero enterprise investment scheme to marshal private capital to help with the social objective of achieving net zero?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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We have a number of such schemes in existence and have trialled a number of others. We are always iterating the way in which we attract private capital to meet net zero; that is what we have been doing for the past three years, since net zero was passed into legislation.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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When fracking was halted in June 2019, Ministers said that they would not bring it back without compelling evidence. Now, however, the Government say that all options are back on the table. Where is the compelling new evidence that puts fracking back on the table?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I have been very clear. The hon. Lady is right to mention 2019: in October 2019 I was responsible—as was my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom), who was Secretary of State at the time—for announcing the moratorium. The facts about the wholesale price have changed: it is 10 times higher than at the end of 2019. I think that it is perfectly right to look at the resources that we have in our country to see whether we can use gas here for greater energy security.

Philip Dunne Portrait Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con)
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May I build on the excellent question from my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes), with which I agree? The Secretary of State has included in his medium and long-term strategy the ambition to raise solar power from 14 GW to 70 GW, which would obviously make an enormous contribution to renewable energy generation. Will he follow up the excellent work that he undertook with the Treasury to remove VAT on solar panel installation and also press for VAT to be removed from electricity storage for battery walls and similar products in domestic homes?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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My right hon. Friend will appreciate that tax issues specifically are not in my portfolio, but I speak to the Chancellor of the Exchequer all the time about how we can incentivise investment in new, exciting green technologies. That is something that we are very pleased to do.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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I think that all of us in this House, when we think of the energy crisis, would want to encourage our constituents to take forward energy efficiency measures, but in one particular type of property—the tenement properties that we have right across Glasgow’s east end—energy efficiency is even more problematic. Will the Secretary of State meet me to look at the specific energy efficiency challenges that Glaswegians face?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman, as I meet many of his Scottish colleagues, to discuss really critical energy issues.

Miriam Cates Portrait Miriam Cates (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Con)
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I very much welcome the commitment to rebuilding Britain’s nuclear industry. It is great news for consumers and it should be great news for the UK steel industry, particularly Speciality Steel in Stocksbridge in my constituency, which specialises in producing the kind of high-value steel required for such projects. I know that my right hon. Friend has welcomed Sizewell C’s decision to sign the UK steel charter. Can he confirm that that means it must commit to purchasing steel made and poured in the UK?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I cannot make any commitments on behalf of the company, because it is at arm’s length and has its own corporate structure, as my hon. Friend will know. However, as Secretary of State I have always championed the steel industry, which is vital for national security and for levelling up. It is a hugely important industry and I am very happy to work with her to promote it.

Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)
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Onshore wind is the cheapest power available to us, and the cleanest. Does the Secretary of State accept that bills for families and business will be much higher as a result of his failure to back it?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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We have done more than many in driving onshore wind. The hon. Lady will know that we suspended the pot 1 auction and have brought it back, that we have more onshore wind than pretty much any other country in northern Europe, and that we continue aggressively and passionately to promote onshore wind.

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)
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The retail energy market saw the big six suppliers increase to 90. Several were granted licences despite being undercapitalised, which caused them to fail and placed a burden on all consumers. We know that competition in the market is vital; what steps will the Secretary of State will be taking to make it effective?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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In partnership with Ofgem, we have discussed trying to secure a much more resilient energy retail market, with financial covenants involving much more financial discipline and financial disclosure, as well as other ways in which we can ensure that what happened last winter does not happen again.

Dan Carden Portrait Dan Carden (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab)
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Some 12,000 households in my constituency rely on prepayment meters. The chief executive of ScottishPower rightly raised that issue with the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee today, saying that it was perverse that those people—often the most vulnerable—can end up paying higher rates than people with direct debit arrangements. Will the Secretary of State take this up with the energy companies, and, if necessary, compel them to ensure that the most vulnerable members of society are not paying the highest prices?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I think it was Keith Anderson who spoke to the Committee this morning. I speak to Keith and others in the sector all the time, as does the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands). We will definitely look into this issue, because it seems disproportionate and unfair that people with prepayment meters should be paying so much more than those with direct debits, and we shall be happy to take it up with the leaders in the sector.

John Whittingdale Portrait Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con)
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I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to a new generation of nuclear power stations. Can he confirm that the eight designated sites remain the Government’s preferred locations for those, including Bradwell in my constituency, and has he yet reached a view on whether a Chinese-designed reactor could be included?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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As my right hon. Friend will know, Bradwell passed the generic design assessment. That was an arm’s-length process in which the Government did not become involved. There is clearly a discussion to be had about how we can take Bradwell forward, but, as my right hon. Friend knows, there is an absolute commitment to up to eight sites. I am not saying eight, because obviously we have small modular reactors as well, but eight sites would mean roughly 24 GW.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State visited Bristol recently to look at the ambitious projects that are going on there, including new water source heat pumps and the City Leap partnership. Is the Secretary of State aware of what is going on in Bristol, and what can he do to help cities to decarbonise?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I know that Bristol has a strong tradition of green, carbon-reducing policies. I should be happy to visit the city and see the great work that is being done there. It is a part of the world that I know well from Airbus and other great industrial concerns.

John Penrose Portrait John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con)
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I congratulate the Secretary of State on this excellent document. May I press him on the review of energy market arrangements and the long-term fundamental reform of the underlying market? Will he reassure me, and others on this side of the House—at the very least—that that will be done in a spirit that will maximise competition and consumer choice to ensure that we make the customer the king and the queen, and that it will include price cap reform?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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All these issues are being looked at. The six-month periods for the price cap are being reviewed, and, as I have said, financial resilience for new entrants will be considered. A subject that has not been mentioned so far is the future system operator and the electricity system operator. That is a remarkable innovation, and I am proud that it is included in the document. I should be happy to talk to my hon. Friend about these matters.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)
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The Secretary of State has said that this is a long-term strategy, and obviously we need that, but there is a short-term problem, namely that people cannot afford to pay their bills at present. That is partly due to the green levies, which amount to about £400 a year in additional costs to individuals. What plans has the Secretary of State to deal with that? Given his plans for a number of new offshore wind turbines, may I ask how many he believes are needed, and at what cost? What is the cost of connection to the grid, and how will that affect the capital costs on people’s energy bills?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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As the right hon. Gentleman will know, in the time during which I—indeed, I suspect, both of us—have been in the House, renewables have really taken off. They are the one bit of the energy story here in the UK that has been genuinely transformative and a world leader, and I am very proud of that. As for the immediate support for hard-pressed consumers facing a global price hike, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor committed £9 million to help people to pay their bills.

Jane Hunt Portrait Jane Hunt (Loughborough) (Con)
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What steps are being taken to ensure that the future energy strategy of the UK is secured by the manufacture of hydrogen fuel cells in the UK—in, say, Loughborough?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I had a feeling that my hon. Friend was going to mention Loughborough. She will know that we are absolutely committed to hydrogen. It has many uses: it can be used, potentially, in the gas grid, in transport—to which she alluded—and in industrial processes. We are very excited about the opportunities, outlined in the strategy, for more capacity so that we can drive innovation in those areas.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
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In 2019—it was during the general election campaign, but I am sure that was just a coincidence—the Government said that fracking in Lancashire would be off the table, that there would be a moratorium and that the wells would be filled with concrete. May I ask the Secretary of State what has changed between 2019 and today that has put fracking back on the table? What on earth did he get from COP26?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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There has been an issue with the wholesale gas price, which has gone up about 10 times during that period. It seems entirely reasonable, if we have gas underneath our feet, to consider the possibility of using it.

David Morris Portrait David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con)
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Would my right hon. Friend like to come to Heysham and look at the two reactors that are working in my constituency? The whole community is behind the nuclear power industry, and it is our future, so I extend that invitation to my right hon. Friend.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I should be very happy to go with my hon. Friend to see the nuclear reactors. The future is decarbonised baseload power. That is what we need, and it is something with which my hon. Friend and I are 100% aligned.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn (Aberdeen South) (SNP)
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The Secretary of State has said that his energy strategy would

“drive down bills for British people”.

By how much?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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That obviously refers, relatively, to whatever the wholesale price of gas will be. I am not a gas trader, and nor is the hon. Gentleman. He has no idea what the wholesale gas price will be either. The strategy will have a tendency to lower prices.

Andrew Percy Portrait Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con)
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If recent events have shown us one thing, it is the importance of having our own strategic steel industry—something that I know the Secretary of State understands. The announcement of the expansion of the energy-intensive industries compensation scheme is welcomed by the industry, but can the Secretary of State tell us when we will know the details of that?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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We are in constant conversation about this. It was a hard-earned win for the Government, and we are very pleased to be backing steel. My hon. Friend knows of my commitment to the industry. We have won some battles, and I look forward to engaging with him on this in the future.

Mark Hendrick Portrait Sir Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op)
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Mr Deputy Speaker, you will know, as a Lancashire MP, that the people of Lancashire are fed up to the back teeth with fracking. As the Secretary of State knows, the moratorium came in 2019 because Lancashire was experiencing tremors measuring 8 on the Richter scale. It was a safety measure, because we were worried about safety. It was nothing to do with the wholesale gas price, so please, Secretary of State, do not come out with that now.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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There was drilling, and I remember it well. When I was the Energy Minister, I was receiving daily updates on the Richter scale, and yes, there were moments—there were times—when the level exceeded the limit that we had imposed. I think it entirely legitimate now, given where gas prices are, to look again at some of the evidence.

Alun Cairns Portrait Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con)
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I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the publication of the report, which provides certainty for so many sectors, particularly oil and gas, and nuclear. However, much attention has rightly been paid to the support for energy-intensive industries, and there have understandably been many questions involving the steel industry. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the support extends to the chemical industry, given that Dow Corning has a site in my constituency, as well as others?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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My right hon. Friend knows very well that the chemical industry is central not only to people in his constituency, but to those throughout the north-east. We engage with energy-intensive sectors such as the glass, steel and chemical sectors, and others.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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Ceramics, yes. All those industries are covered by the energy-intensive scheme that we want to promote.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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One of the greatest constraints on decarbonisation is the skill supply. Will the Secretary of State publish a workforce plan for the energy sector, so we can ensure that we are making the necessary investment in the skills that we need, both now and in the future?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right. That is why, when I was the Energy Minister, I—along with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Gavin Williamson), the then Education Secretary—set up the green jobs taskforce, working with unions across the sector. We came up with some very good proposals. We are driving that forward, because we recognise the skills gap and want to close it.

Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Môn) (Con)
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I am delighted that Wylfa is specifically included in the British energy security strategy, and I look forward to welcoming the Energy Minister to Ynys Môn in a few weeks. The new Wylfa nuclear plant will bring local jobs for local people. Will the Minister consider discounting electricity bills for locals, and locating the headquarters of the new Great British Nuclear vehicle in north Wales, in recognition of the nuclear expertise and heritage in the area?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I think I would be getting a bit ahead of myself if I were to decide here and now at the Dispatch Box where that body will be sited, but I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s tireless and passionate advocacy for the nuclear industry. She, among a number of others in this Chamber, has been a brilliant champion, and I look forward to working with her to drive nuclear power in Wylfa and across the country.

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab)
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People used to have their water supply cut off if they could not pay their bill, until it was made illegal to do so. Given that more and more of our constituents will be unable to pay their gas and electricity bills as the year progresses, does the Secretary of State share my concern that more and more prepayment metres will be installed in response, and that our constituents will in effect end up disconnecting themselves because they do not have enough money to put in the meter? If so, what is he going to do about it?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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As I said in an earlier answer, I speak to the industry all the time. This has been raised, and we want to prevent people from having to take up prepayment metres if they can avoid it. That is something that we have done through a number of interventions to try to reduce the impact of very high prices globally. I also refer the right hon. Gentleman to the fact that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced a £9 billion package to help people who face high bills.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Order. I am afraid that this will have to be the last question. I call Jack Brereton.

Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton
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Energy price fluctuations are a particular issue for the ceramics sector. Over Easter, I was delighted to visit 1882 Ltd, a ceramics producer in my constituency that has raised these concerns with me. What is my right hon. Friend doing to support the ceramics sector, and all energy-intensive sectors, to reduce the cost of energy and help to increase energy sustainability?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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My hon. Friend will have noticed that there is a commitment in the strategy to energy-intensive users. From his first day here, he has been a tireless champion of the ceramics industry. I was pleased to see him in his constituency when I went there, and to the other Stoke constituencies. I look forward to working with him to ensure that we protect our precious ceramics industry in the UK.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I am sorry that some people did not get in—a note will be taken of their names—but we have real time pressure today.