Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

I am sure that the people suffering through the rampant cost of living crisis across the nations of the UK hoped that if the Government tabled a new clause today, it would address their struggles in paying their rent, their ever-increasing mortgages, their higher food bills, thanks to Brexit, and their even higher energy bills after the cap was adjusted in January. The Government tabled only new clause 5 and, as I said on the Ways and Means motion, we have no opportunity to amend it.

The electricity generator levy disproportionately impacts Scotland’s renewable sector. The SNP welcomes the fact that new clause 5 will exempt new renewable projects from the EGL, but as noted by the chief executive of Scottish Renewables, though the autumn statement introduced new measures such as the EGL exemption, they are

“not enough on their own. We urgently need consistent policies to provide an environment which will enable businesses to invest at the scale needed right now.”

A pledge to invest £28 billion a year in the green energy transition might be a good thing, but it seems to be off the table not only for the UK Government but—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. I wish to make a short statement.

I know the whole House will wish to join me in expressing our sympathy with His Majesty the King following this evening’s announcement. Our thoughts are, of course, with His Majesty and his family, and we all send him our very best wishes for his successful treatment and speedy recovery.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry
- View Speech - Hansard - -

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Obviously, it is entirely appropriate to have paused for that statement. I was unaware of the news brought to the Chamber, but it is clearly significant. Our thoughts are with the royal family at this time.

As I was saying, we need consistent policies to help the renewables sector, and we are not seeing that either from the Tory Government, who have run out of ideas, or from the Labour party, which makes promises and then ducks responsibility for what is required.

We would have liked new clause 5 to flesh out the Chancellor’s promise, made in the autumn statement, to take up to £1,000 a year for up to 10 years off the electricity bills of people living near new generation equipment. We have not heard that today, so we do not know what schemes are coming up.

As I intimated earlier, I would have liked to table an amendment on this point: if new clause 5 is applicable to people living next to new generation equipment, what about those who already live among generation equipment in, for example, the highlands and islands? We have the coldest climate in the UK. Most people are off the gas grid, so we have higher average bills than the rest of the UK. We pay the highest standing charge for electricity, 40% more than here in London, and because of UK Government policies, we have the highest level of fuel poverty in the UK, yet we export six times more electricity than we use in the highlands. It would have been entirely appropriate for the Minister to agree to introduce a highland energy rebate, to put some of that contribution back into the pockets of people across the highlands and islands who are struggling because of those conditions.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is making a very good point that rings true in my constituency, too. Of course, the problem is made more difficult still because of the other costs faced by people living in our constituencies, such as delivery charges and the cost of other services. Even a tube of toothpaste can cost a little more the further away it is from the big urban centres. That makes the problem a lot worse.

--- Later in debate ---
Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I welcome his support for the campaign I am trying to start in order to get justice for people across the highlands and islands. He mentions other costs; of course, rural properties are often larger and less insulated. That does not mean that people in those properties have more money; it just means that their property was built that way, centuries or decades ago. That brings higher costs. Many of the factors affecting people across the highlands and islands could be mitigated by a highland energy rebate.

New clause 4, tabled by the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), would require the Chancellor to review the public health, inequality and poverty effects of the Bill, and to publish a report within six months of the Bill being passed. It is regrettable that it looks as if the new clause will not be pressed to a Division tonight, but the SNP would have supported it. We believe that a requirement to consider the implications for equality, poverty and health should be included in every Bill for which that would be relevant.

As I said, people are suffering from a cost of living crisis fuelled by decisions made in this Parliament. Mortgages are going up as a direct result of the disastrous mini-Budget, and now food costs are going up. Of course, there is more to come, as the Brexit regulations kick in at the end of April. Not only are prices going up, but they will rise even higher from May as businesses across the UK face more red tape. Of course, we are already seeing our highest energy bills ever. Meanwhile, we are doing what we can with our limited powers in Scotland. We already have lower council tax and, of course, we are introducing a council tax freeze. A poll out today shows that nearly 70% of the public approve of this policy.

New clause 6 would require the Chancellor to publish an assessment of the Bill's impact on investment and growth and of the impact of making full expensing permanent, and to consider what other policies could support the effectiveness of permanent full expensing. Given that full expensing is expected to cost £1 billion to £3 billion a year, after an initial £10 billion a year for the first three years, the policy deserves some scrutiny.

Since full expensing was announced in the autumn statement, the SNP has supported its being made permanent, as this would give business greater certainty and would simplify the tax system. However, it is vital that Members be fully informed, so that this Parliament can assess the effectiveness of this policy and whether it encourages investment in assets such as plant and machinery, as it is designed to do, or whether that is at the expense of other forms of investment. Full expensing is a rare point in the autumn statement on which we agree, but as I have said time and again, the Bill has failed. People are struggling through a cost of living crisis, and they want to know what help they will get now, while they are struggling because their household expenses are going through the roof.

People want investment in clean energy, and a just transition from oil and gas. We will need oil and gas for a period, but that transition should be safeguarded. The United States is providing hundreds of billions of dollars in initial support for new green technologies, such as hydrogen. The European Union has made similar high-level investments, yet the UK Government and the Labour party are dawdling on the issue, wasting the opportunity for us to lead across the world. Like so many Bills, this Bill ignores the needs of the people of Scotland, so it is little wonder that they are on the inevitable path to independence.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. May I take this opportunity to associate myself with Mr Speaker’s remarks? I am sure that all our thoughts are with King Charles and the royal family this evening.

--- Later in debate ---
Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry
- View Speech - Hansard - -

In this Third Reading debate on the Finance Bill, one thing has been conspicuously absent from both the Tory and the Labour Front Benchers’ speeches—the one thing affecting people most just now: their struggle with the cost of living crisis. People are struggling to pay their bills. They are struggling to pay their mortgages, which have gone up because of this Government’s disastrous mini-Budget. They are struggling to pay their rent. They are struggling to pay their food bills because of these parties’ disastrous Brexit, which is pushing food price inflation even higher. They are struggling to pay their energy bills, because this Government have been asleep at the wheel while prices have been rising, and even allowed the energy price cap to go up in January when bills have never been higher. This is a travesty of a Finance Bill. It has done nothing to help the people of Scotland with their finances, it has done nothing to help people across the rest of the UK, and I will definitely vote against it tonight.