Kwasi Kwarteng debates with Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

There have been 26 exchanges between Kwasi Kwarteng and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Thu 19th November 2020 Fuel Poverty and Energy Price Caps (Westminster Hall) 5 interactions (1,813 words)
Wed 18th November 2020 Exiting the European Union (Energy Conservation) 12 interactions (1,139 words)
Wed 18th November 2020 Solar Flares and Electricity Grid Reliance 2 interactions (982 words)
Tue 17th November 2020 SMEs and the Net Zero Target (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (1,503 words)
Tue 10th November 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 41 interactions (928 words)
Thu 5th November 2020 Offshore Wind Transmission Connections 8 interactions (1,004 words)
Fri 16th October 2020 Company Transparency (Carbon in Supply Chains) Bill 8 interactions (658 words)
Wed 14th October 2020 Electricity Generation: Local Suppliers 10 interactions (1,443 words)
Tue 29th September 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 31 interactions (541 words)
Mon 28th September 2020 Fracking: Rother Valley 2 interactions (1,064 words)
Tue 21st July 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 39 interactions (995 words)
Tue 7th July 2020 Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy: Departmental Spending 7 interactions (1,298 words)
Tue 16th June 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 25 interactions (579 words)
Mon 15th June 2020 Electricity 27 interactions (1,779 words)
Mon 4th May 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 17 interactions (594 words)
Mon 16th March 2020 Cavity Wall Insulation: Complaints 4 interactions (1,153 words)
Tue 10th March 2020 British Steel Industry (Westminster Hall) 11 interactions (1,736 words)
Tue 3rd March 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 17 interactions (464 words)
Wed 26th February 2020 Energy Efficiency Measures: Net Zero Buildings (Westminster Hall) 11 interactions (1,138 words)
Tue 25th February 2020 UK Oil and Gas Industry (Westminster Hall) 22 interactions (1,671 words)
Thu 13th February 2020 Coventry IKEA Store Closure 6 interactions (1,554 words)
Tue 21st January 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 31 interactions (855 words)
Tue 22nd October 2019 Oral Answers to Questions 63 interactions (1,275 words)
Tue 8th October 2019 Government Plan for Net Zero Emissions (Westminster Hall) 9 interactions (1,225 words)
Wed 18th April 2018 Industrial Strategy 9 interactions (1,064 words)
Mon 16th October 2017 Nuclear Safeguards Bill 33 interactions (1,116 words)

Fuel Poverty and Energy Price Caps

Kwasi Kwarteng Excerpts
Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)
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19 Nov 2020, 2:12 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Rees. I congratulate the hon. Members for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) and for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans) on securing the debate, and thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting it.

As all hon. Members have said, the scale of fuel poverty, which is present in every part of the UK, is staggering. I say that as a Member representing a constituency less than 10 miles away in which 5,500 households are in fuel poverty—this problem affects every part of the UK. The point about methodology and the consequent difficulties in making comparisons across the four nations was made, but the headline estimated rates show approximately one in 10 households in England and Wales are fuel poor, one in five in Northern Ireland, and one in four in Scotland. Those figures should be a source of shame for each nation. We have heard about the negative impacts that fuel poverty has on health, mental health, and morbidity.

The debate is timely as this issue affects millions across the country. Older people bear the brunt of it, but families—particularly single-parent families—and increasing numbers of younger people are also affected, and the issue has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. The impact has been felt not just because of sharp reductions in income, job losses, and people being furloughed or having to manage on some form of financial support from the state, but, as has been mentioned, because more time at home as the weather turns colder means much higher bills. In the context of the near standstill on the installation of smart meters and of the distinct lack of progress on energy efficiency, there is concern that this winter could see even higher numbers of deaths linked to cold homes.

That more can and should be done to address fuel poverty is, in my view, beyond dispute. A number of schemes already aim to tackle the problem, but they operate with varying degrees of effectiveness, and more attention needs to be paid to making them work better and over a long time. In the short term, we really need clarity on how those schemes will operate in the months and years ahead.

The warm home discount scheme was rightly extended by the Government last month, but we still have no idea about what that means for the amount of the discount or whether coverage will be extended to customers who sign up with smaller energy providers, for example. We need urgent clarity on how that scheme will work going forward.

In its last iteration, the energy companies obligation, which the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk referred to, focused almost exclusively on low-income and vulnerable households. We know that it can make a contribution to reducing fuel poverty through energy efficiency measures, and hence lower bills for at-risk households. However, the ECO is now scheduled to run only to 2022. We need urgent confirmation from the Government that it will be extended beyond that date, and that the cuts made to its overall funding at the time when its focus was revised will be restored.

Beyond the targeted schemes that exist, the best way in the long term to combat fuel poverty is to design it out—to systematically insulate and make more energy-efficient the homes in which those in fuel poverty live, which are largely, it has to be said, in the private and social rented sectors. In most European countries, not just those with more temperate climates, the concept of fuel poverty is largely alien because the underlying efficiency of their housing stock is such that bills are entirely manageable by the vast majority of households. That is not the case across the UK, where we still have some of the worst insulated and least energy-efficient housing stock in Europe.

As the Scottish National party spokesperson mentioned, the manifesto on which Conservative Members stood in the last general election contained a commitment to spend more than £9 billion on uprating energy efficiency in homes, including a £2.5 billion home upgrade grant scheme and a £3.8 billion social housing discount fund. We have yet to see any sign of either measure or, I would argue, any real commitment to rapidly overhauling and upgrading the UK’s housing stock.

Although the amount allocated to the recent green homes grant is welcome, as an emergency measure lasting only for this financial year, and with some real questions about how effectively it can be delivered over that period, there is a real risk that it will ultimately have very little effect. Current statutory energy efficiency commitments require all fuel-poor homes in England to be levelled up to the energy efficiency standards of a current new-build home. At present, the Government are a very long way away from meeting those commitments, and we need urgent action to get us back on track.

So far I have focused on general issues relating to fuel poverty, but the title of the debate invites us to pay particular attention to the role of the energy price cap. The Opposition very much welcomed the price cap when it was introduced in January last year. After all, it was an idea—as the Minister may recall, labelled a semi-Marxist proposal by his party—that we put forward in our prospectus in the 2015 general election.

There was a clear need for a cap to address the issue of companies overcharging consumers, manipulating the goodwill of loyal customers and exploiting so-called sticky customers, many of whom are among the most vulnerable in the population. There is no doubt in my mind that the price cap has saved the poorest households considerable sums of money. It is estimated that the amount is in the order of £75 to £100 for those households on the default price tariffs.

However, as hon. Members will know, and as has been mentioned, the cap was introduced only as a temporary measure until such time as it could be proven that conditions for effective competition in the market existed. Those conditions clearly still do not yet exist. We were pleased that the cap has been extended for a further year after Ofgem reported as much to the Government, but issues of concern remain. The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk spoke about the really important one of pre-payment meters.

We know that people on pre-payment meters are often fuel-poor customers. The energy price cap has folded into it the previously existing pre-payment meter price cap, which will lapse at the end of this year. Although protection for those who access their energy in that way will continue to some extent through the default tariff price cap, I hope the Minister agrees that we have to ensure that they are afforded long-term protection when the cap as a whole is lifted, as it inevitably will be.

This has been a good and important debate, albeit an under-subscribed one for the reasons that the SNP spokesperson mentioned. There is a huge amount of interest in this problem, as there should be given its scale. The Opposition urge the Government to devise a more comprehensive strategy on fuel poverty—one that addresses price, efficiency and problems of coverage and access, as well as the root causes. I hope that the Minister can provide the House with some reassurance that his Department is at least thinking along those lines.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
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19 Nov 2020, midnight

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Ms Rees, in this excellent debate on a really important issue. I cannot think of a more important issue that the House could debate; very few are more important and more relevant to people’s lives than fuel poverty. I congratulate the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) on securing this important debate.

The challenges of fuel poverty and the affordability of energy for households are a huge concern for everybody—not just for members of Opposition parties, but for the Government. I particularly share the concerns about fuel poverty relating to health issues, both physical and mental, and the difficulties people are experiencing now because of the coronavirus pandemic. Obviously, my view of what the Government have been doing and of the importance with which we regard these issues will be slightly different from that of Opposition Members, but I can assure the House that the Government take the issue of fuel poverty extremely seriously.

As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, fuel poverty is a devolved matter, with England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland all having their own fuel poverty targets, their own policies and in many cases their own definitions. However, we all absolutely share the view that fuel poverty is a critical issue.

It is not a new issue. In 2015, we published a fuel poverty strategy for England, which set out the Government’s approach to tackling fuel poverty then. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that we should publish a new fuel poverty strategy. We had wanted to publish it at the end of this year, but we are very hopeful that we can get it out early next year, and it is absolutely critical that we do so.

We are also committed to ensuring that there is appropriate scrutiny, so I am very happy to spend some time dealing with some of the issues raised in the debate. Obviously, I cannot deal with every single issue that has been touched on. We have talked about power generation, fuel poverty and the nature of the devolved settlement—it has been a wide-ranging debate—and I will try to deal with some of the issues. It is vital that we work together to tackle this really important problem.

The hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) was good enough to mention the warm home discount, which was not referred to in any of the speeches by SNP Members. Of course, the warm home discount that he was good enough to mention is a critical part of the Government’s fight against fuel poverty. It provides financial assistance to more than 3 million low-income and vulnerable households each winter, and each one of those households benefits to the tune of £140 a year roughly, which represents £3.5 billion of public money and is a significant contribution. It does not abolish the problem but it is a significant contribution, and I think that any fair-minded participant in this debate would have acknowledged that. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for doing so.

We have already consulted on extending the scheme until March 2022, recognising that it offers vital support to people in this country, and we are considering how a version of the scheme, or even the scheme itself, can perhaps be extended beyond 2022. These are matters of grave consideration.

Members mentioned the energy company obligation and that, too, is a scheme that has helped people in fuel poverty to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. It is another great GB-wide scheme, which is worth £640 million a year, and it has made an impact in improving the energy efficiency of homes across the country. Since it began in 2013, under—dare I say it?—this Government, nearly 2.8 million energy efficiency measures have been installed in over 2.1 million homes. Again, that is making an impact. The ECO has always been focused on supporting low-income and vulnerable households, providing improvements to give a long-term benefit to those households. Again, we are planning to consult on proposed changes to the scheme in 2021; we want to see how any future scheme can contribute to meeting actual targets.

Another form of assistance and another scheme, which Members were good enough to refer to, is the green homes grant. It was launched only in September and is a £2 billion programme to improve the energy efficiency of homes in England. Other attendant fuel poverty schemes are available in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I remind the House that the green homes grant offers low-income, vulnerable and fuel-poor households up to £10,000 for the installation of energy-efficient and low-carbon heating measures in their homes. There is also a local authority delivery element that considers households of all tenors and of all descriptions within a household income of under £30,000. Local authorities will shortly set out detailed eligibility criteria for that.

The hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) suggested that there would not be time to fully implement the green homes grant. We are looking at that, and there is some flexibility in the system. I look forward to making the case that we should perhaps extend it, and there may already have been an announcement in that respect.

[Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister will be aware some hon. Members have also raised concerns that people in many constituencies have been unable to get the free quotes required from approved suppliers to progress. Will the Government address that as well?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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19 Nov 2020, 1:34 p.m.

Absolutely. I suggested that there was flexibility in the scheme. One of the reasons that there would be flexibility is that we are trying to increase the number of installers who have the trust mark accreditation, so that they can do the work. It is a good scheme, and it goes some way towards meeting the manifesto commitment mentioned with respect to the £9.2 billion. There is clearly more work to be done and I fully accept that, but we have made a start. It would be irresponsible to say that the Government are “indifferent” to the problem, as was suggested by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. We are not “indifferent” to this important issue, though there may be disagreements as to how best to tackle it. It would be wrong to suggest that we are “indifferent” to that critical and hugely important problem.

The energy price cap was mentioned, and that opens up a whole new avenue of debate. Clearly that has had a role in not only helping people in straitened circumstances, but in helping industry. It has meant that the industry can, overall, be more productive and efficient. That obviously has the effect of driving down costs and thereby driving down prices. We are committed to ensuring fair energy prices for consumers, and that is why we introduced the price cap on default energy tariffs in 2019. The hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich mentioned that it was part of the Labour manifesto many years ago before he even got into the House. I think it was in 2013—the election was in 2015. Clearly, however, there was an issue and the Government accepted that. We introduced the requisite legislation. It is extraordinary that we are being criticised for adopting the policy suggested by the Opposition with which we have, over time, agreed. That shows that the Government do listen to ideas, from whichever quarter those ideas may arise.

The default price cap today protects around 11 million consumers, and a further 4 million households are protected by the prepayment meter price cap from 2021 when that is introduced. It is a big intervention in the way the energy market works and shows that we have a non-ideological approach to the issue. It also shows the Government’s determination to support hard-pressed energy consumers.

In my concluding remarks, I will talk specifically about the covid-19 response. I and the Government are fully aware that the covid-19 pandemic poses unprecedented and unusual problems with respect to fuel poverty. I was struck by the suggestion from the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudon that fuel bills had risen by 37% or maybe it was his colleague the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk. I fully accept that it is a huge increase.

From the outset of the crisis the Government recognised that the covid-19 pandemic would have a huge impact on household incomes and would lead to more straitened circumstances. That is why the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy acted swiftly to secure an agreement with energy suppliers to support consumers impacted by coronavirus. In fact, one of the first calls that I made was to try to organise a response, and the suppliers understood the difficult circumstances that we were in. We managed to reach an agreement as early as March, which provided real support for those who needed help the most.

The energy companies have responded reasonably well. There is a broad understanding in the sector about the nature of the problems. We have done a huge amount. People talked about poverty in general, and the Government have spent unprecedented amounts to protect jobs and incomes. We have extended the coronavirus job retention scheme until the end of March, which has been welcomed across the country. We have also increased the third self-employed grant and provided an uplift to universal credit, which was mentioned. I am happy to say that we have responded to the concerns by providing an uplift to universal credit.

We have also increased the upfront guarantee of funding for the devolved Administrations from £14 billion to £16 billion on top of the spring Budget 2020 funding. Despite all of the support and the unprecedented level of intervention, it is a sad fact that many households will struggle with their energy bills this winter. We are absolutely focused on that and I speak to energy suppliers all the time about how best we can meet the challenges. From 15 December this year, new rules will require energy companies to identify self-disconnecting prepayment meter customers, people who are confronted often with the very harsh dilemma that was pointed out and choose to take themselves out of the prepayment meter scheme. We require energy companies to offer them support to stay on supply and to offer emergency and family-friendly hours and credit to all prepayment meter customers. That is a world where we are driving change to meet the very problem that the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk so ably identified.

In the spirit of cross-party co-operation, I hope I have always extended a warm hand to Members to discuss the issues. We have had an excellent debate. Like the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, I regret the fact that more right hon. and hon. Members could not participate today, but I am sure the question will be revisited soon. I will be very happy to attend a further debate if that is what Members want and also to meet individual Members on a face-to-face basis to discuss these really important issues.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered fuel poverty and energy price caps.

Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh (in the Chair)
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19 Nov 2020, 1:34 p.m.

I will suspend the sitting until 3 pm.

Exiting the European Union (Energy Conservation)

Kwasi Kwarteng Excerpts
Wednesday 18th November 2020

(1 week, 1 day ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
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18 Nov 2020, 12:05 a.m.

I beg to move,

That the draft Ecodesign for Energy-Related Products and Energy Information (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, which were laid before this House on 13 October, be approved. 

In recent years, the EU has introduced, through the ecodesign directive and the energy-labelling framework regulation a suite of product-specific regulations. Ecodesign regulations are all about minimising the cost and environmental impact of products used in homes and businesses by setting minimum energy performance standards. Energy labelling regulations provide consumers with information about a given product’s energy performance to allow them to make informed purchasing decisions. In 2020, those policies will save households approximately £100 on their annual energy bills, and they will also lead to greenhouse gas emissions savings of 8 million tonnes of CO2 while driving innovation and competitiveness in business.

The aims of the statutory instrument are relatively straightforward. It amends retained EU law to ensure that the ecodesign and energy labelling regime remains operable in the UK once the transition period ends at the end of this year. The SI also implements the Northern Ireland protocol and unfettered access for ecodesign and energy-labelling policy.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am concerned about the Northern Ireland protocol. We spent some 60 minutes on that in the urgent question to the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office. Will the Minister clarify the issue of labelling on products from Northern Ireland and confirm that the protocol will not prevent my agrifood sector and other sectors from selling their products across the water east-west and west-east?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I think there are two different issues. Clearly, there are labelling issues, but the question that the hon. Gentleman is asking relates to market access. There is no reason, once the SI is on the statute book, that there should be any impediment to trade.

Amendments to retain EU ecodesign and energy-labelling legislation are required to ensure that that legislation can continue to operate legally within the UK from 1 January 2021. Amendments are also made to our 2019 EU exit SI to ensure that that continues to function as intended. New energy-labelling regulations for some products have come into force in the EU, and they require that suppliers of the relevant goods provide rescaled energy labels with their products from 1 November 2020. Retailers, however—this should be stressed—do not need to display those labels until 1 March next year. This SI ensures that the March 2021 requirements that would otherwise not become retained EU law still come into force in March, as intended.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
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18 Nov 2020, 2:54 p.m.

On retailers needing to display the new labels, does the retailer just swap one label for another, or is there some other process they need to go through come March?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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18 Nov 2020, 2:55 p.m.

There will be a requirement from March 2021 for retailers to display the requisite labels, but we do not envisage this as being a particularly difficult transition.

To ensure legislative implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol—this relates to what the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said—the statutory instrument amends our 2019 EU exit SI, and underlying legislation, so that certain UK-wide provisions are limited to Great Britain only. This will ensure that EU requirements continue to apply in Northern Ireland after the transition period, as per the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol. The instrument also allows relevant qualifying Northern Ireland goods that comply with EU ecodesign and energy labelling regulations to be placed on the GB market without—this relates directly to his point—undergoing additional checks. Qualifying Northern Ireland goods are defined in another instrument laid before Parliament by the Department.

Finally, the SI implements a decision to replace the EU flag on energy labels with the UK flag. Alongside this, we have removed EU language text from energy labels, and UK energy labels have been made available to businesses—free of charge, I would like to add—through an online service that supports compliance with this amendment.

These regulations are necessary to ensure the continued functioning of ecodesign and energy-labelling policy in the UK, while upholding our commitments under the Northern Ireland protocol, with the result that the UK, its consumers and our businesses can continue to realise the benefits of this policy. I commend the regulations to the House.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

18 Nov 2020, 2:58 p.m.

I thank the Minister for giving us a careful and clear exposition of the position that was the case prior to this year and what will now be the case with the effective continuation of the provisions of the two EU directives that he mentioned—the EU ecodesign directive of 2009 and the EU energy-labelling framework regulations of 2017—in terms of their position as continuing defenders of consumer rights in the purchase and use of electrical goods and similar items that are covered by those directives. They deal, in the first instance, as he mentioned, with ensuring a progressive energy efficiency base for electrical products so that the least efficient are progressively withdrawn from sale as the provisions of the ecodesign directive comes in—that is, the requirement that goods are progressively designed in an increasingly energy-efficient and therefore energy-saving way.

The second directive, as the Minister mentioned, provides a labelling system, which I think hon. Members will be familiar with, that covers the energy efficiency rating of a particular product and therefore gives customers guidance on the products that they are purchasing and reinforces the ecodesign directive in terms of informing customer choices about what they are purchasing. Clearly, it is very important for the purposes of continuing the protections and support for the marketing and purchasing of those electrical items that what was in the directives is properly transposed and changed into UK law. As far as I can see, what has happened with both statutory instruments in this area is that the transposition has been fully made so that the provisions come properly into UK law.

Of course, that is not the full story and we need further elucidation on one or two things, whether or not we agree that the SI does its job of making sure that after 1 January—or in this case, March—the provisions are fully transferred and protection can continue. Slightly confusingly, this SI follows on from an SI with exactly the same name in 2019, which first transposed EU eco- design and energy labelling directives into equivalent standards in UK law. That SI transferred those arrangements on the basis that they would come into force in March 2020. However, with the extension of article 50 and the date of exit now being 1 January 2021, the SI might conceivably have needed updating to deal with the new date. Indeed, as it transpired, a number of amendments, changes and developments in those EU directives were made and came into force in the period between the original start date of the 2019 SI and the start date that is envisaged in the new SI we have before us.

Break in Debate

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Before I call the Minister, I thank the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) for having pointed out what an interesting piece of legislation this is. Very rarely do we get a fully illustrated instrument like this before us. I have never understood energy labels, but I have a much better idea now than I ever had before. I hope that many people will go to the Vote Office and pick up this draft statutory instrument.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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Madam Deputy Speaker, I am delighted that you appreciate the various illustrations in the legislation, and I am delighted, too, that you have learned a great deal about energy labelling.

I shall sum up very succinctly, because I fully understand the pressures on time and the fact that people want to move on to subsequent debates. I thank the hon. Members for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) for their contributions. I will address two or three of their points as succinctly but as clearly as I can.

In relation to the implementation period—the transition period, as we call it now—it was always the case that we had an obligation to enshrine in UK law measures that were introduced by the EU in the course of the transition period, but once we had left the EU, there was no such obligation. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test is therefore quite right to say that, as per the Northern Ireland protocol, there could in theory be some divergence. However, if that happens, we can keep on an equal basis, mirroring what goes on in Northern Ireland at a subsequent date after we have left the EU. That is possible, and I am not going to prejudge the outcome of that.

With respect to marketing, in the provision in the statutory instrument, there is a period of a year where EU goods can be marketed in this country. As the hon. Gentleman said, leaving the transition period will not affect the marketing of goods from Northern Ireland into Great Britain, nor should it affect the marketing of goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland, but there will be a marker. I cannot remember its exact design off the top of my head, but I will certainly come back to him on that question.

As to why this debate is happening on the Floor of the House and not in a Committee Room, that is clearly an issue for the business managers of the House. I am not in a position to fully answer that question, I am afraid, but I reiterate our commitment to the standards, ecodesign and energy labelling regime that has helped us to significantly reduce energy bills and increase emissions savings. This will make a massive contribution to our carbon reduction commitments in future. I think Members of this House will be very pleased to know that our standards have led the EU over the past few years: no country in the EU has decarbonised as readily as we have done since 1990. I notice that our German colleagues are still committed to the mining of coal until 2038, and I am pleased to say that we are taking coal off the power generation grid by 2024. I make that point not as an idle boast, but to say that we are, and have been, leaders of the EU, and with COP26 we will continue to provide leadership on the decarbonisation agenda.

This draft instrument will allow businesses in Northern Ireland to trade smoothly with Britain. It will allow Northern Irish products to circulate without any hindrance on the GB market, and it will also preserve the highest standards within businesses in this country.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I therefore commend these regulations to the House.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
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Madam Deputy Speaker, I draw attention to my having asked the Minister to give way.

Solar Flares and Electricity Grid Reliance

Kwasi Kwarteng Excerpts
Wednesday 18th November 2020

(1 week, 1 day ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Paul Maynard Portrait Paul Maynard
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18 Nov 2020, 12:03 a.m.

I was fascinated to see how the hon. Gentleman would respond to the challenge of this topic in an Adjournment debate and he has surpassed my expectations. I urge him to speak to EirGrid, which is the grid that covers Ireland. I am sure it will be interested in explaining to him what actions it is taking. But there are issues we have to consider. The 2015 space weather preparedness strategy indicates that the nearest radiation monitor to the UK is in Belgium. Can the Minister confirm whether that remains the case, and whether our decision to pull out of all EU agencies in any way jeopardises our access? Either way, what steps have been taken to develop sovereign capability in that regard? When was the last Met Office review of warning systems for space weather, and what role would he anticipate for the UK Space Agency?

The British Geological Survey has three operational magnetic observatories. Can the Minister confirm that that remains the case, and explain how resilient they are in and of themselves to space weather? The 2015 review described a number of priorities for future investment. Can the Minister update the House on what publicly funded research has now commenced on space weather, as per the strategy? Can he update me further on what progress has been made in working with international partners?

The Government’s 2015 report stated

“the GB power grid network is highly meshed and has a great deal of built in redundancy. This potentially makes it less susceptible to space weather effects than power grids in some other countries. Over recent years a more resilient design for new transformers has been used to provide further mitigation.”

That is all very positive, you might think, but a 2013 report by the Royal Academy of Engineering painted a slightly different picture:

“Since the last peak of the solar cycle, the Great Britain transmission system has developed to become more meshed and more heavily loaded. It now has a greater dependence on reactive compensation equipment such as static variable compensators and mechanically switched capacitors for ensuring robust voltage control. Thus there is increased probability of severe geomagnetic storms affecting transmission equipment critical to robust operation of the system.”

That is a little less positive.

Right now, National Grid seems to be focusing on hanging on to its role as the electricity system operator, as well as balancing expanding offshore wind farms and building interconnectors to them. Does it have the bandwidth that it needs to keep checking whether its network of transformers can withstand an event of space weather? Back in 2015, it calculated that some 13 transformers were at risk, and the likes of the US are stockpiling back-up transformers. National Grid is supposed to have spare transformers, but it is not clear how many. If we were to need more, do we even have the industrial capacity to build them, notwithstanding the eight to 12-week lead-in time, and the need to transport them by road to their destination? What more can Government do to assist increasingly commercially oriented companies such as National Grid in this regard, and what progress has been made on developing transportable recovery transformers, as was suggested as far back as 2013? What progress does the Minister believe National Grid is making on installing such mitigating inventions as series capacitors and neutral current blocking devices? Interconnectors are a good thing in themselves. They are also direct current equipment, and as such are not affected. However, during a solar flare, they may be affected, because the convertors to alternating current at either end will come under risk. As we develop ever more interconnectors, what steps is the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy taking to ensure that those new interconnectors are made as resilient as they can be? Crucially, can I ask when the last national risk assessment update was conducted by the Government?

Some dangers never come to pass—Y2K passed without incident—but just occasionally, I believe it is worth posing the question “What if?” and not just trusting that it will all be fine, because that is the answer we want to hear and the alternative is perhaps far too unpalatable. Covid-19 teaches us many lessons about preparing for worst-case scenarios, and making sure that we assess all possible outcomes must surely be one of the key lessons that we learn. I look forward to learning what the Minister has to say.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
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I was very interested to hear the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). He mentioned solar flares, and the fact that in the 19th century, people were very conscious of those solar flares. I would like to remind him, as I am sure he knows, that a whole economic theory about the business cycle relating to solar activity was presented in the 19th century, and there are British economists who are very interested in this subject. As a country generally, we have been very interested in solar activity, so I thank him for raising a subject that is very important. It is not as abstruse or obscure as people might think: the question we are considering is a very serious one.

Those severe space weather events are rare, but when they do occur, they can have a big impact on national infrastructure, as my hon. Friend has suggested. As such, it is—I am sure he will be pleased to hear this—a risk that we take very seriously. Severe space weather was first recognised as a risk in our 2011 national security risk assessment, and the 2017 national risk register of civil emergencies provided the most recent assessment of the likelihood and potential impacts of that risk. This assessment is kept under constant review: it is not something that we simply put away in a drawer once it was written up.

Of course, predicting when severe space weather events can happen is crucial to minimising their impact. I am pleased to reassure my hon. Friend that the UK is a world leader in this area, as I suggested in my earlier remarks. The Met Office’s Space Weather Operations Centre is one of only three 24/7 forecasting facilities in the entire world. Its systems are kept under constant review, and we are constantly looking to improve how we can maximise our capacity in this area. In recognition of the importance of these forecasts and the ability to conduct forecasting, in 2019 the Prime Minister announced a £20 million boost for research in this area, which represented a near quadrupling of the amount that we were spending. This funding means that the Met Office will be able to improve both the accuracy of forecasts and its warnings.

I have to say that when my hon. Friend mentioned the three operational magnetic observatories, I was very interested. I did actually do some preparation on that topic, and I am very pleased to say that all three magnetic observatories are operational. They are situated in Shetland, on the Scottish borders and in north Devon, and they greatly enhance our capabilities in this area. They are also extremely resilient to space weather.

My hon. Friend mentioned National Grid.  The whole issue of National Grid ESO and National Grid’s relationship to it is something that again is under constant review. It is the subject of some debate in the industry. However that question is answered, I can reassure him that we have a resilient energy system. I was struck by the fact that he mentioned a report from 2013. He and I have been in the House of Commons since 2010, I think, and I hope he does not take it amiss if I say that 2013—certainly in the context of energy—is a very long time ago. We have had a huge increase in the deployment of offshore wind and we have more interconnector capacity. I suggest to him that the capacity and resilience of the system is considerably greater than was the case in 2013. Having said all that, I accept that the risk is serious, and he rightly draws it to my attention. I will take the matter up directly with National Grid and the ESO.

As far as National Grid and the ESO are concerned, they feel that they have instigated a few mitigating measures, including increasing the number of spare transformers so that damaged equipment can be replaced quickly. We have been assured—I can revert to my hon. Friend on this—that there are sufficient spare parts to deal with the reasonable worst-case scenario, and there are plans to deploy this spare capacity. Also, critically, we have to introduce—and they are introducing—a new design of transformers, which will be far more resistant to the effects of space weather that he described.

With respect to interconnectors, my hon. Friend will know that it is a direct current but the transformers transform it to alternating current, and that is an area again where we think we can get added protection from the risks he outlined. We will publish a new space weather strategy next year, which will set out a five-year road map—a five-year vision—for how we intend to boost resilience and build on existing UK strength and capacity in this area. It will also provide what he has asked for: an update on the progress that we have achieved since the 2015 strategy was published.

The long history of close working among the energy industry, thinkers and leaders of thought in the sector and the Government means that we have a good understanding of the risk posed by solar flares to the electricity network. We think we have put in place proportionate measures that will mitigate those risks, and I am firmly of the view that the system is highly resilient, but, once again, I am extremely open to ideas from my hon. Friend and from Members across the House—from all quarters—as to how we can improve our resilience and our ability to forecast potential danger in this area.

I once again thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. Far from being a flippant or trivial subject for an Adjournment debate, it is my pleasure to respond on a very serious problem. I hope we can assure him that the problem is well scoped and that we have decent mitigations in place.

Question put and agreed to.

SMEs and the Net Zero Target

Kwasi Kwarteng Excerpts
Tuesday 17th November 2020

(1 week, 2 days ago)

Westminster Hall

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)
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17 Nov 2020, 5:08 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. We always state this as a courtesy when opening our remarks in this place, but I am genuinely grateful that the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) secured this debate, because the subject deserves far more attention in this House than it has received to date. When we talk about decarbonisation of the kind required by the net zero target, the focus is invariably on either big market trends or the action that the Government must take to drive emissions reductions across the largest emitting sectors of the economy. Although it is recognised that SMEs will be impacted by both, the assumption is always that they will simply adapt to any change made. To some extent, that will no doubt be the case, but, given that SMEs are the backbone of our economy, they need to be much more than an afterthought in our thinking about net zero, and much more thinking will need to be done about what targeted support they will need to ensure that the transition to net zero is as orderly as possible. The hon. Gentleman made very good points about the risks entailed when that does not take place and the need to learn lessons from history.

I intend to touch on three specific areas where there is clearly a need to do more to support SMEs in transitioning towards a local carbon economy. Before I do, I want to make two general points about the Government’s approach to climate action that have implications for them. The first is the need for a clear and credible net zero strategy. Setting a net zero target was an essential first step, but hitting that target requires a plan for its delivery. Despite having legislated for it more than a year ago, the Government have still not brought forward such a strategy. Indeed, core building blocks of it, from the national infrastructure strategy to the energy White Paper, have been repeatedly delayed. Although there will need to be a sector-specific component for SMEs in it, the most important thing is that the Government bring forward that comprehensive strategy as a matter of urgency to provide clarity and certainty for SMEs and other sized businesses, and a framework within which they can make investment decisions. The test of the announcement expected from the Prime Minister tomorrow will be whether it moves us forward towards that comprehensive strategy.

The second general point is that there is a real need for the Government to prioritise decarbonisation in any coronavirus stimulus package, and in particular a need to bring forward significant investment in low-carbon infrastructure. It is no good providing targeted net zero support for SMEs if the systems that they are embedded in and the infrastructure that they rely on are not transformed.

On the targeted support that SMEs require to make the transition in an orderly fashion, there are three areas, as I said earlier, that require more focus. First, SMEs clearly need more information and guidance on how to progress towards net zero. That not only means better access to tailored business, financial and legal advice; we need to do more to ensure that SMEs are persuaded of the commercial importance of planning for the transition to net zero early and the detrimental implications of not doing so.

The Government should look at what more they could do to support innovation in relation to SME business models and manufacturing processes. There are good examples of where this is happening in other countries across the world. The Dutch green new deal, for example, provides government-backed institutions to offer free technical advice to help businesses in Holland become more efficient. More could be done to augment and enhance the role of local government and local enterprise partnerships in engaging SMEs on the issue of net zero and helping them understand the business and supply chain opportunities that exist as part of it.

To date, while organisations such as the Carbon Trust and the Federation of Small Businesses have stepped in to provide SMEs with support along these lines, the Government themselves have done very little. Will the Minister outline in his response what plans, if any, the Government have to help inform and advise SMEs about how best to decarbonise their businesses? Secondly, as many hon. Members have said, SMEs undoubtedly need more help to access financing. Many have spoken about the pressure that SMEs are under as a result of the pandemic; the fact that they are struggling with high levels of debts and substantial losses of revenue. Many have also spoken about the financing gap that exists, not least the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies) in his succinct and well-argued speech.

Other countries have created institutions to address this problem—the KfW in Germany, the Small Business Administration in the US, the Business Development Bank of Canada. I would argue that we do not have anything that does the same thing. There is a need to look again at what the British Business Bank could do, but also to establish a national investment bank with a clear green mandate—as we called for as part of our green economic recovery last week and challenged the Government to bring forward. Such a bank could provide low-cost, long-term financing to SMEs to help their transition in the way that the KfW has provided in energy efficiency loans to SMEs in Germany. Crucially, a national bank could be integrated into a network of regional outposts to ensure local delivery. We know that the Government have been discussing this for some time. Will the Minister confirm whether they have finally decided to establish such a bank? What sort of timeframe are we looking at for when it might be operational?

Lastly, SMEs need support with skills for their workforce. The Confederation of British Industry has estimated that nine out of 10 employees will need to reskill by 2030. That will require a national low-carbon skills strategy that embeds sustainability and net zero across the whole education system. We called for the Government to bring forward a national retraining strategy to deal with the immediate jobs crisis, while meeting the longer-term needs of a low-carbon economy. Much more could be done in this respect. Will the Minister explain what thinking the Government have done, if any, on a net zero skills strategy that will provide SMEs a workforce that is capable of successfully transitioning?

SMEs will be an essential component of the green transition, but to meet the challenge ahead, they need clarity, certainty, a wider package of investment and targeted support for information and technical advice, financing and skills. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s thoughts on all those areas.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
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17 Nov 2020, 12:04 a.m.

I am very pleased to be conducting this debate under your eagle eye, Ms Ghani. I am also pleased to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), who did a terrific job in outlining the issues. He has long been a champion of small businesses in this House and a very effective advocate for those interests and businesses which, as many hon. Members have pointed out, are absolutely essential to our economy. I will address a number of his points and then turn to points made by other hon. Members in this debate.

We have to make clear our absolute 100% commitment to net zero as a Government. The Prime Minister has shown many times that this is at the centre of our strategy. We also feel that, given where we are with covid, it is absolutely necessary to build back better. As my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton said in the first part of his speech, the 2008 crisis was extremely difficult, but one of its bad features was that we did not as a global community look at climate change and think about building back greener and better in the aftermath. People in this Government, in the Opposition and in Governments across the world are much more focused on building back greener and building back better as a consequence of this covid crisis.

As my hon. Friend said, SMEs are the backbone of our economy and will have a key role in driving economic growth. He described a headlong rush to net zero; others might take a different view. However, we cannot assume that the push to net zero will be imposed on businesses. We have to take our people and our SMEs along with us. I fully accept that we should engage with SMEs. I do this fairly regularly, as I am sure he and others do as local MPs. If he has SMEs in his constituency that he wants to talk to about net zero with me, I urge him to engage with me on that. It is a two-way street, and I look forward very much to engaging with many of the excellent businesses in his constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) gave us a flavour of the many SMEs engaged with net zero in his constituency. He said that net zero and the covid-19 crisis would “fundamentally adjust” our economy, which was an excellent and well-made point.

On SME engagement, we have a net zero small business engagement strategy that seeks to strengthen our approach to working with SMEs, which is particularly relevant in the context of COP26 in Glasgow in November next year. I have made it a specific cause of mine to make sure that SMEs can play a part in COP26. We are also developing a small business energy efficiency scheme, which is obviously related, in some measure, to the green homes grant that we are pioneering at the moment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton will know that finance is a huge area of development. Thanks in small part to my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies), the sovereign green bond is finally something that we will engage with. I was delighted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that, and I know that my hon. Friend will be particularly happy, given his background and the campaign for that development that he promoted. Along with the sovereign bond, that clearly creates a space in which green finance is something that we are all engaged with. I speak to bankers, people in the City of London and investors, and there is huge appetite for these sort of green assets.

The fear that my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton raises about SMEs being shut out of the market is legitimate. We can try to create a culture in which SMEs are looked on more favourably, but we cannot, I have to say, buck the trend of the market. I am afraid, for people who are not adapting, that investors are voting with their feet. It was only a few weeks ago that the market capitalisation of Ørsted, a Danish offshore wind company, was bigger than BP. That is a case of investors voting with their feet; it was not Government legislation that gave it that value in the market. My hon. Friend is a great champion of market forces, although perhaps in another context, but he will understand that if banks are keen to look at the green credentials of companies, that can make the climate more difficult for companies that are slower to adapt. However, that is definitely something that we should look at.

My hon. Friend was right to mention the British Business Bank in this context. I am keen—I have been driving this within the Department—to get a net zero remit for the British Business Bank. He will remember that the British Business Bank was set up years before the net zero legislation, so we have to do a degree of reverse engineering to ensure that the net zero challenge is at the centre of the bank’s remit.

The hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) gave us a number of challenges. I would like to say a few words about them all, starting with his third point, relating to skills. I am very proud to have announced a green jobs taskforce. This is the first time that I, as the Energy Minister sitting within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, have got together with the Skills Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) to create something. We have come together and created a forum in which we are discussing green jobs. I am sure that the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich will be pleased to learn that we have not only academics, business people and one or two small business representatives but we have trade unions coming together to discuss the immense opportunities that we have, as a country, in this space. There are something like 460,000 jobs already in the green economy in Britain, which is a figure that we want to see increase up to 2 million by 2030, so there is huge opportunity and ambition in the context of green jobs and green skills.

In the second part of his remarks, the hon. Gentleman talked very well about the need for finance and for some sort of national institution. He, as well as others in the Chamber, will know that there is plenty of discussion about that within Government. As we leave the EU, we are leaving the European Investment bank. Hon. Members have mentioned KfW Development Bank and we also have our own UK Green Investment Bank.

There is clearly an appetite in certain quarters, as well as a wide debate, for a national institution that may emerge as a consequence of our leaving the EU, focusing particularly on net zero. These are ongoing discussions, but my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton cannot believe that I would be so naive, even if I knew the answer, to blurt out our plans in the context of a Westminster Hall debate. He can rest assured that this matter is being debated and discussed very seriously at the highest levels of Government.

The first point that my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton made was very pertinent. If we are to try to bring people along with us on the journey towards net zero, we have to engage. Engagement means supplying information, exchanging ideas and providing guidance, as he suggested. We do that all the time and, of course, we could do more. Debates like this, dare I say it, are excellent ways in which we can broadcast and encourage our engagement with SMEs on the vital question of net zero.

There were many other remarks that I have not been able to fully address one by one. Broadly, I would say that this debate is absolutely key. Within the debate there were slightly different voices. If he will permit me to say it, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton is a brilliant champion of local business, but he did stress the fact that we must take people with us. There is no point in our hurtling to a net zero endpoint and leaving vast swathes of the economy and business behind. The hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich stressed that there is urgency, and I fully agree; there is a real need for further impetus. These are balancing arguments, and I can assure hon. Members present that the Government are taking all their remarks seriously.

We discuss the issue all the time and we are open to ideas. Ministers do not often say that, but we are open to ideas about how best we can engage with local businesses and small and medium-sized enterprises in our quest to reach net zero by 2050.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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17 Nov 2020, midnight

I am really heartened by my right hon. Friend’s comments on this issue. It seems that the House is in accord. I am grateful for all the contributions. There is a lot of consensus.

I love the word “ecosystem”, which the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) used in this context, to describe this whole situation. What we need is a 30-year ecosystem in order to take the business community with us. There were some great examples, such as the British development bank, through to Papa Pump and whatever else—two ends of the same scale. There are lots of banks that are supportive. There is the Bankers for NetZero project. We have Barclays, Tide, Handelsbanken and Triodos, which are all keen to have a conversation on this issue and try to take businesses with us. It is so easy to look at shiny new innovative businesses, rather than businesses that currently exist and that want to make a contribution. I am very heartened by my right hon. Friend’s comments that he wants to take business with us.

When someone is in the world of business and has their own SME, it is not just a job and a business—it is their life. It is so critical to everything they do and stand for. I urge again, and I am reassured by the Minister’s comments, that there should be no cliff edges. There should be a stable framework. If we leave no one behind here, the SMEs can lead from the front—if that is not too much of a mixed metaphor—towards a net zero future.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered support for SMEs and the net zero target.

Oral Answers to Questions

Kwasi Kwarteng Excerpts
Tuesday 10th November 2020

(2 weeks, 2 days ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
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What steps he is taking to support the development of marine renewable energy. [908539]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
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On 6 October, the Prime Minister announced new plans to build back greener, which included boosting the Government’s previous offshore wind target from 30 gigawatts to 40 gigawatts. The hon. Lady will also be interested to hear that the Marine Energy Council is looking at funding models for early tidal projects, and that is something in which the Government are very interested.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
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UK maritime energy is seeing seismic changes, as is so much of the economy in all parts of the nation. Workers skilled in vessels and rigs offshore are being moved to new renewable industries, but—as is always the case with this Government—some are being left behind. This Government cannot be allowed to make the same mistakes that they made in the 1980s, when they left coal workers and entire communities devastated and unsupported. Will the Minister tell the people of Newport West how the Government plan to avoid those mistakes in the new energy transition?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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The hon. Lady will be aware that the green jobs element of the transition is at the centre of the Government’s net-zero strategy, and we fully intend to have something like 2 million green jobs by 2030, although now we have only 460,000. Green jobs are at the centre of the recovery that we are trying to drive.

Dan Poulter Portrait Dr Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con)
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What plans he has to help ensure adequate Government scrutiny of the Sizewell C nuclear power station development consent order application. [908542]

Break in Debate

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to help achieve the net zero emissions target by 2050. [908553]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
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The hon. Lady will know that the UK’s net zero target is a world-leading initiative. Indeed, it was striking that this month China, Japan and South Korea committed themselves to net-zero carbon targets.

Felicity Buchan Portrait Felicity Buchan
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I am a big proponent of electric vehicles. Will my right hon. Friend consider regulatory reform to encourage investment in the electric vehicle infrastructure, such as vehicle-to-grid charging?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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My hon. Friend will know that we are taking considerable action to encourage consumers to buy electric vehicles, and we are also investing in the necessary infrastructure. So far we have invested £30 million to support vehicle-to-grid technology, and we will regulate next year to ensure that consumers benefit from smart-charging their electric vehicles.

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford
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Recent commentary has highlighted the role of the North sea as a strategic asset for net zero. It could deliver one third of our energy needs via offshore wind, which could increase the utilisation of carbon capture and storage and green hydrogen. What is the role of a carbon pricing mechanism in delivering this?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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My hon. Friend, as he often does, raises a pertinent question relating to our energy strategy. Obviously, carbon pricing is at the centre of any move to try to decarbonise our energy mix. We have a track record on this, and we have also committed to 40 GW of offshore wind by 2030, which, through the auction process, is critical to delivering our net zero ambitions.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)
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If we are to sustain public support for the goal of net zero, it is essential that we maximise the benefits of the green transition here at home, but there are far too many examples where the promise of that green transition risks not being realised. One such case is the plight of the BiFab engineering yards in Fife and Lewis, which represents a clear failure to utilise industrial strategy to ensure that British firms win work and sustain decent jobs from the billions of pounds being invested in offshore wind installations just a few miles off the Scottish coast. Citing state aid rules, the SNP Scottish Government appear content to sit back and let the steel jackets in question be manufactured overseas. Can the Minister give a commitment today that the UK Government will step in and safeguard the future of mounting fabrication in the UK and these vital 450 Scottish jobs?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman will know that we are absolutely committed to maintaining a UK supply chain for the extra deployment of offshore wind that I alluded to earlier. With regard to this specific issue, we are in conversations with counterparts in Scotland and also speaking to people in the company.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP)
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What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on increasing support to businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak. [908544]

Break in Debate

Owen Thompson Portrait Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP)
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What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on increasing support to businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak. [908572]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
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The Department has engaged regularly with the Chancellor and other partners across the devolved Governments, including in Scotland, since the beginning of the covid-19 outbreak to make sure that businesses have the right information, guidance and support that they need.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

A pub owner in my constituency has seen his business severely impacted by covid-19 restrictions but has been unable to access a bounce back loan, as the bank where he has his business account is not part of the scheme and none of the accredited lenders are accepting new business accounts. Will the Secretary of State widen the number of banks eligible to provide these loans or ensure that the big lenders accept additional business customers, so that small businesses can access the support they need to get through this crisis?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

Obviously, I am not familiar with the exact details that the hon. Lady refers to. What I can point out is that in her constituency of Central Ayrshire, banks have provided something like £37 million of business loans, but I would be very interested to hear the specifics of that case and to see what we can do to meet those concerns.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), the Secretary of State claimed that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs does not have the information necessary to distinguish between an active, working owner-director of a small business, and an absentee shareholder of a big business who contributes no part to the running of the business. HMRC may not have all that information, but Companies House definitely does and most of it is on public record, so can the Minister tell us what discussions his Department has had with Companies House in the last seven months with a view to using that information to identify the million or so small businesses that have been deliberately excluded from Government support up until now?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

We are in constant contact with Companies House and other sources of information relating to businesses. With regard to the specifics, I am not as familiar with those charges as the hon. Gentleman, but again I point out that something like £30 million of loan money—of credit—has been supplied to companies in his constituency.

Owen Thompson Portrait Owen Thompson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

10 Nov 2020, 12:14 p.m.

While I welcome the extension of the furlough, albeit belatedly, I would suggest the next step to repair mistakes made in handling the pandemic for businesses is to look at the failures within the business interruption loan schemes, which I outlined in a debate in this Chamber last week. Many companies are not taking on CBILs or BBLS loans, because having more debt around their necks is the last thing they need just now. Has the Minister carried out any analysis of the potential effects of offering businesses grants, rather than loans?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

10 Nov 2020, 12:15 p.m.

The provision of credit, as I have suggested to some of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues, has been very generous during this covid-19 period. Obviously, we can refine the process and we are very open to listening to ideas from hon. and right hon. Members about how we can do that. I would like to point out that, last year, in his constituency of Midlothian, we issued something like £49 million-worth of credit. Many of the companies in his constituency have been very grateful and very happy to receive that money.

Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
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If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [908589]

Break in Debate

Andrea Jenkyns Portrait Andrea Jenkyns (Morley and Outwood) (Con) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

High streets up and down our country are struggling and rely on this peak selling time of year. What is my right hon. Friend’s plan to relaunch sales and drive footfall after lockdown and help to save our high streets? [908591]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue; I know that she is a tireless champion for her local high street. She knows that click and collect and delivery services are still possible, as are takeaway services for the hospitality sector. The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), is working tirelessly with retail to make sure that once the lockdown is over, we can bounce back more strongly and take on board much of the important advice that she has been giving us.

Andrew Bowie Portrait Andrew Bowie  (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

  My right hon. Friend is aware that we cannot get to net zero without the technologies being developed in the oil and gas sector, on which thousands of my constituents rely for employment. With that in mind, might he be able to give an update as to when we might see the long-awaited and now rebranded oil and gas transition deal? [908596]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

10 Nov 2020, midnight

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this. The oil and gas sector, as he knows, is currently developing its own proposal for a transformational North sea transition deal, as we call it now. Once we receive its input and ideas, we will be able to negotiate with the sector to make sure that we have the right level of ambition with regard to net zero while preserving the much-valued jobs and expertise that he and others are so keen to promote.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Vauxhall Motors in Ellesmere Port faces an uncertain future, as does much of the automotive sector, so we need Government support now more than ever. Will someone please explain what the sense is in allowing the manufacturers to stay open so that they can build the cars, while the showrooms remain shut so they cannot actually sell them? [908593]

Break in Debate

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that Carshalton and Wallington residents, particularly those living in New Mill Quarter in Hackbridge, will be very grateful that the Government are consulting on regulating a district energy scheme network to prevent residents from being ripped off without any consumer protection. Will the Minister outline when he expects to report back on the consultation on district energy schemes, and can we have a timeline for implementation? [908598]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this very important issue. He and I have spoken about this a number of times. I wish only that his council were as focused as he is on championing his residents’ interests. BEIS has recently consulted on regulating heat networks, and our market framework from 2022 will ensure that consumers receive reliable and regulated heat from heat networks.

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

  The Government claim that they want to rebalance the economy and have invested in new vaccine manufacturing capacity. Why was that not in the north of England or other regions, rather than in Braintree? [908594]

Break in Debate

Anne McLaughlin Portrait Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow North East) (SNP) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Four weeks ago, the Prime Minister agreed with me when he said this about the green deal mis-selling scandal:“We must accelerate the process by which these complaints are upheld…and compensation is delivered”—[Official Report, 14 October 2020; Vol. 682, c. 372.]I have three constituents who have died waiting. I do not want this to be political and I do not care who gets the credit when it is all resolved; I just want it sorted out. So will the Secretary of State please meet the all-party parliamentary group on green deal mis-selling as a matter of urgency and work with us to find a way forward? [908595]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this. Obviously, this is a critical issue. We are working through the cases as expeditiously as we can. I am happy to meet the APPG in my capacity as Energy Minister and resolve what has been a difficult issue—I do not deny that.

Paul Howell Portrait Paul Howell  (Sedgefield) (Con)  [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

  I, like others, have had many approaches from my local businesses in Sedgefield, some of which, because of specific rules, have received inadequate support in the context of what they need to survive. Bexbrides in Hurworth and J&C Coaches in Newton Aycliffe are perfect examples. Bex described it as like having a mine of customers that has been flooded: you know the customers are there—brides are still waiting to get married—but you cannot get to them until the flood subsides. But you know it will. These businesses and others need to keep themselves afloat until the flood subsides. Can the Minister please work with his friend the Chancellor to ensure that they are better supported through the next phase of the pandemic? Will he meet me to enable me to discuss in detail the best support options for them? [908601]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that important question. We fully appreciate that it is a very difficult time, and of course ministerial colleagues are working constantly with Treasury colleagues and officials to ensure that we have the right support, however this pandemic, this dreadful disease, develops. We are working effectively and many of the remedies are being widely appreciated.

Judith Cummins Portrait Judith Cummins (Bradford South) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Forty-one per cent. of hair and beauty salon owners say that they do not know whether their businesses will be able to survive until Christmas, putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk. Will the Business Secretary speak to the Chancellor about the VAT cuts for hospitality and extend those to hair, beauty, spa and wellbeing businesses to give them a much-needed boost during these very difficult times? [908599]

Offshore Wind Transmission Connections

Kwasi Kwarteng Excerpts
Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is enormous generation of jobs on the back of this green energy revolution. He is absolutely right to point that out and I do not dispute it in the slightest. The point I was making was that in coastal communities, where we are trenching into the side of cliffs—in areas of outstanding natural beauty—I want to make sure that we can properly improve things for the future.

This is now an issue of speed. We have all read the report that I referred to earlier, and I think we now have to get on with things as quickly as we possibly can. I know that the Minister is hugely supportive of the case, so I wonder whether there will be time in the Queen’s Speech next year for Bills to be laid out so that we can really get to grips with ensuring that the legislation can change for the better to benefit all our constituencies.

There are significant challenges ahead. Nobody should stand here and think that this is going to be a walk in the park, but we are offering a solution—a way forward. I want this day to be as important as it was 415 years ago, when Guy Fawkes, luckily, did not get his way. He did not get quite the explosion that he wanted, but perhaps five intrepid MPs from the east will help to blow us back on course with an energy solution that we need for a truly green future.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

5 Nov 2020, 12:03 a.m.

I am delighted to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker), whose forays into parliamentary history, going back 415 years, I particularly appreciated. I was very pleased to be reminded of the fact that it is 5 November, but I will make no further reference to it my speech. I will briefly, but as succinctly and comprehensively as I can, address the points that he very ably made.

I also thank my hon. Friend for his efforts, along with the quintet—I can count only four—of MPs who have so ably, over many months, lobbied me, persuaded me and cajoled me to look at this issue in a much more detailed way than we had done in the past. I commend them also for a classic example of MPs coming together, forcing an agenda and getting some quite substantial results over a relatively short time.

When I took over this brief, and I had the privilege of accepting the Prime Minister’s offer to be the Energy Minister in this country, I was struck by the fact that thinking about this subject had not really evolved since 2015. That year was significant, because it was when Ofgem, to all intents and purposes, ruled out an offshore transmission system network of the kind that my hon. Friend has promoted. However, in the short time since—in the last year and a bit—we as a Government and a lot of industry players have really shifted on this issue, and the contribution of hon. Members in this regard has been remarkable.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk also did a good job in suggesting that net zero was at the centre of our strategy to fight climate change. We are, as he said, rightly proud of our commitment to that. In many ways, the problem that he refers to is a function of our success. It was not long ago that we thought 10 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030 would be a significant achievement, and that it was a reasonable target. Today we want to have 40 GW by 2030. That is a quadrupling of the ambition, and because we have upscaled our ambition so considerably, his argument about the disruptive effects that point-to-point landing of electricity would have on his and other communities has been recognised. I would suggest that the argument for some form of offshore network system has been won.

What is critically under discussion at the moment is the timing. In a way, that is the devil that lurks in the detail, and it is precisely the reason that, in July this year, thanks to the lobbying of my hon. Friend and others, I launched the offshore transmission network review, to bring together key stakeholders involved in the timing, the siting and the design of an offshore wind transmission system. The 40 GW ambition equates to installing one turbine each weekday throughout the whole of the 2020s. That gives an impression of how comprehensive and ambitious this deployment will be. We cannot afford to slow that rate, so, given the nature of the ambition, it is absolutely right that we should look at developing an offshore transmission network system.

My hon. Friend did a good job in referring to the National Grid ESO analysis, which was published only in the past few weeks. It showed that the economic benefits of a fully integrated approach could save as much as £6 billion by 2050, and that is not even considering all the local environmental benefits that such an offshore network system would provide. The crucial thing to remember is that most of this technology is already here with us right now. Shifting away from individual connections towards a larger, more integrated solution would be environmentally sensible as well as presenting an enormous economic opportunity not only for the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) but for the whole country. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) said, this is about UK plc at the end of the day.

Jerome Mayhew Portrait Jerome Mayhew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend referred to the review undertaken by National Grid ESO. When considering the cost-benefit analysis of the integrated design compared with the counterfactual—the current system—the report concluded that adopting the new integrated system immediately or as soon as possible would be the way to get the majority of the £6.4 billion of savings, both in capital expenditure and operating expenditure from then right up to 2050 and beyond. That is an 18% saving for consumers. Does he agree that it would be irrational if the Government did not do all in their power to put this new system in place and get the benefits as soon as possible?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

5 Nov 2020, 5:23 p.m.

I fully appreciate my hon. Friend’s point. We want to expedite this process, but we are talking about very expensive infrastructure and about redesigning or tweaking the regulatory framework in order to accommodate that investment. These things take time, but it is absolutely right for him and other MPs to hold the Government’s feet to the fire. That is entirely legitimate, and he has done a great job on that.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is brilliant how the Minister is engaging with us on this subject. On timing, we feel that there is an issue about legislation, and if we are to reform the regulatory framework as quickly as we are pushing ahead with output targets, we may need legislation in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech. We are ready to help in any way we can to ensure that we get something ready quickly.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

Perhaps regrettably, the subjects of the Queen’s Speech are beyond my pay grade, as people say, and I cannot possibly divulge what will be in the speech in that context, because frankly I do not know. However, my hon. Friend makes a serious point, and any subsequent legislation from BEIS, or that I try to introduce to the House, must consider the question of the regulatory regime and the environment through which we can develop the offshore network system. We are looking at that issue and taking it seriously.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister agree, given the highly innovative solution that he is working up, that industry has been working ingeniously in the North sea for more than 50 years, and it has come up with the most remarkable technological solutions? Industry must be involved, along with us, with business, with the Government, and with regulators.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend will know that I have visited his constituency and seen the wind farm installations off the coast of Suffolk. Industry and the operators of offshore wind farms, National Grid, and others, will be involved, and I am sure they will be consulted. They have come up with their own review, and people are very much engaged in that wider debate.

I am pleased that our review has been welcomed across the sector and across the House, and I am pleased to respond at any time—perhaps not at dinner time, but at any other time—to my hon. Friends’ insistence and brilliant advocacy on this issue. This is a remarkable instance of a group of MPs representing a locality pushing an important issue, not only for their constituencies but for the country as a whole. I commend them in their efforts and look forward to hearing from them. I hope that together we can all push forward and deliver on this agenda.

Question put and agreed to.

Company Transparency (Carbon in Supply Chains) Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Kwasi Kwarteng Excerpts
Karen Bradley Portrait Karen Bradley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2020, 12:04 a.m.

The thing that we should look to is what we did on modern slavery. There are other countries that do this. California was the first place to have a transparency in supply chains measure. We would be world leaders, though, in transparency in supply chains on carbon, and that would give us a real edge with COP26 coming up.

I make this offer to my right hon. Friend the Minister. Would he work with me? Would he allow me time to work with his officials to work this up? I know it will take a bit of time and effort to get it through the Government clearing processes and reach collective agreement, but I believe it would give him and the Government a real global lead in how we tackle carbon emissions.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

16 Oct 2020, 2:25 p.m.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) for giving the House an opportunity to debate this extremely important issue. I am extremely happy to respond on behalf of the Government.

I wholeheartedly agree with my right hon. Friend on the importance of transparency in supply chains. I know the great work she did when she was an Under-Secretary in the Home Office, under the guidance of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) who was, at the time, the Home Secretary. That work was signal legislation. It had a huge impact and I think it is having a huge impact. It was a remarkable piece of legislation and I commend them for that.

The importance of highlighting the transparency of carbon emissions in supply chains is also extremely important. My right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands will know that I always had an open-door policy. She saw me a number of times before the lockdown—before the new normal, as she put it—and, as far as I was concerned, we had a very constructive discussion on this issue. I will just say to her that whatever happens in the next five minutes she should continue to engage with the Department and me on this extremely important issue. There may be a number of differences between her policies and ours, but I think there is a strong common strategic objective which we should pursue together. I am therefore very open to having more conversations with her.

More broadly, the House will recognise that the UK has long been a leader in the fight against climate change. We have managed to do that while achieving impressive rates of economic growth. Between 1990 and 2018, the UK managed to reduce carbon emissions by 43% while growing the economy by 75%. As that has happened, the UK has decarbonised its economy at the fastest rate of all G20 countries since 2000. Our carbon emissions today are at their lowest level since the 19th century. Once again, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead. It was under her Administration that we passed the net zero carbon legislation last year which essentially made us world leaders, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands suggested.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2020, 2:27 p.m.

I pay tribute to the work the Government are doing. Does the Minister not agree that the key is the development of offshore wind, particularly, of course, in East Anglia? Does he agree that a key issue is the ability to grow that sustainably by having a more joined-up infrastructure in wind farms?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

16 Oct 2020, 2:27 p.m.

After a number of years in the House, my hon. Friend shows himself very adept at crowbarring somewhat irrelevant issues, which are extremely pertinent to his constituency, into this narrow debate.

Karen Bradley Portrait Karen Bradley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2020, 2:28 p.m.

I join my hon. Friend in supporting offshore wind and perhaps less emphasis on onshore wind in places such as Staffordshire Moorlands.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

16 Oct 2020, 2:28 p.m.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you will know, with your experience, that some of these remarks are not necessarily in scope. [Laughter.] So I will continue by addressing the actual issue.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands mentioned COP26 in Glasgow next year, where we will be taking centre stage and a leadership position not only in driving our climate ambitions but in encouraging others on a global platform, our friends and allies across the world, to take up the fight against climate change and, we hope, pursue highly ambitious nationally determined contributions. During these difficult times, our commitment to COP26 and urgent climate action has not wavered. Businesses and people are at the heart of our strategy for tackling climate change. We know we can only get there with a strong green recovery.

On corporate transparency, my right hon. Friend’s aims are absolutely central to the strategy we should pursue. There are minor differences of detail. She will know that we introduced legislation last year and that we were one of the first countries to endorse recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures. We feel as a Government that some of this action should be more embedded before we go down the route that my right hon. Friend has suggested.

Karen Bradley Portrait Karen Bradley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would just say to the Minister that sometimes we have to lead, and this is an opportunity to lead and to be the first to do something really important.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

Dare I say, we are leading—maybe not exactly along the lines that my right hon. Friend has prescribed, but we are taking leadership? As I have said to you, Mr Deputy Speaker—

Electricity Generation: Local Suppliers

Kwasi Kwarteng Excerpts
Wednesday 14th October 2020

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The number of interventions might be a record. Congratulations. I call the Minister.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

14 Oct 2020, 1:21 p.m.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; I was going to make very much the same point. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) on securing today’s debate, and I will make the same point: I have never seen an Adjournment debate with so many interventions. They were all extremely gracefully and graciously accommodated in his speech, so many congratulations to him.

The hon. Member has spoken eloquently about the need for local communities to be able to supply electricity, and I think there are strong arguments in its favour. I know that similar views have been expressed to me and the Department by many Members. I am fully aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) has also done his bit to try to drive the issue of local supply up the agenda.

I know that the hon. Member for Ceredigion supports a campaign for electricity generators to sell directly to local consumers, for all the benefits he suggested in terms of local employment. I think he or one of the many intervenors used the phrase “local buy-in”, and those arguments are fully appreciated.

In my remarks today, I will address the matter in quite a technical way and give the specific reasons why we as a Government feel that this particular provision is not something that we would adopt, but I suggest to him that local community participation has to be on the agenda. It is certainly something that I as the Energy Minister will be willing to engage with and have a discussion about.

With regard to the licensing—we will talk a little bit about that—changing the licensing framework to suit the business models identified by his campaign appears attractive, but the danger—and we always have to be mindful of dangers in government—is that it would create wider distortions elsewhere in the energy system. I will talk to those directly. Instead of the hon. Gentleman’s proposal, I would urge stakeholders and hon. and right hon. Members across the House to engage with the ongoing work that the Government are undertaking with Ofgem to support flexibility and innovation more generally. Then perhaps we can come to a view about how the local element can play its part in the solution.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is the Minister not aware that the main problem is the lack of a level playing field? Basically, the smaller providers cannot compete with the bigger providers, and therefore we need this change.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

I am fully aware of that, and I will come on to it. I have only 10 minutes, so I ask the hon. Lady to bear with me; I will address that point later in my remarks.

Electricity and gas supply licences, as I am sure everybody in the Chamber knows, are usually granted on a Great Britain-wide basis. However, Ofgem has powers to award supply licences for specified areas and specified types of premises, and that can allow licensees, once they have the licence, to specialise and offer more targeted and potentially innovative products and services. The holder of such a licence could supply customers only in the specified geographical area and specified types of premises, with the full terms and conditions of the licence applying otherwise. That means that there is already provision through this licence to have local provision. Electricity suppliers can apply to Ofgem for a derogation from a particular provision of the supply licence, and if it is granted, provisions of the supply licence will not apply to them. There is already some degree of flexibility.

Olivia Blake Portrait Olivia Blake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

14 Oct 2020, 7:40 p.m.

No, I am afraid I am very hard pressed for time. I may have time later to take an intervention, but I need to press on with my remarks.

Ofgem, as I have suggested, has been consulting widely on how to use such facilities more effectively to bring innovation to the specified locality, as it were, in this retail market. I understand that the consultation closed on Monday 12 October, and I hope that small-scale generators who wish to supply local communities have responded fully to the consultation.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion mentioned, very ably and relevantly, the Licence Lite provision, which allows aspiring suppliers or local generators to apply for a supply licence and receive relief from compliance with industry codes. On existing mechanisms, the Electricity Act 1989 already allows the Secretary of State to exempt, by scale, electricity suppliers from having an electricity supply licence if they meet certain conditions. There have been examples, certainly in my tenure as Energy Minister, of people successfully applying for exemptions.

Being an electricity supplier, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, confers the right of the licensee to supply electricity to customers, but it also bestows certain obligations, and that is very important to remember. Those obligations include payment of a proportion of network costs. Clearly, if one is operating in a situation where one is not a licensee, then one can avoid paying the costs on which the whole system depends. That is a critical issue. In some instances, the Licence Lite regime can remove this burden, but clearly we would not want to go down a route where large numbers of suppliers are simply exempting themselves from those obligations.

Network charges, as people will understand, are levied on all users of the network, and they send signals that reflect the costs that users impose on the network. There are a range of signals to encourage generators to locate close to sources of demand, and placing a source of generation close to areas of high demand will mean that the generator gets paid credits for helping to avoid further investment in the high-voltage transmission network. Essentially, that means suppliers are incentivised to be in areas of high demand. There will be a commensurate problem in areas of low demand, because how would they attract the relevant suppliers? Ofgem is working to reform these signals through improvements to network charges, and it is also working to develop local markets for flexibility, which goes to the core of what I think the hon. Gentleman is talking about.

I do not believe—and I think the Government, thankfully, are of the same opinion—that artificially reducing network costs for local electricity suppliers is going to be highly efficient, because it could distort the market. One is essentially incentivising a behaviour that may not be economical in the first instance, and that would mean higher costs falling on other consumers, which would increase as more local suppliers were subsidised. Creating a special category of local supplier brings its own complexities, and there may well be unintended consequences as a result.

Having said that, I commend the hon. Gentleman for thinking very deeply and creatively about this issue. This is part of an ongoing conversation. He was quite right to say at the beginning of his remarks that a lot of the structures that we have today reflect the conditions and circumstances before we legislated for net zero, and in many cases reflect conditions that operated 30 or 40 years ago. There is an ongoing discussion to be had about how best to adapt our institutions to modern circumstances.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

14 Oct 2020, 7:40 p.m.

My right hon. Friend has highlighted some of the challenges that the Government face. As we have heard from Members around the Chamber, we have shown enormous potential for local community energy supply to play a full role in decarbonisation and the covid recovery. Will the Government be setting out in the forthcoming energy White Paper how we fully realise this potential and meet these challenges? When can we expect to see that White Paper?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

14 Oct 2020, 7:41 p.m.

My hon. Friend is straying into ground that is not necessarily covered in this debate. I am very hopeful that the energy White Paper will be published soon. I think the Secretary of State said in front of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that it would be published in the autumn, and we are still in the autumn, so I am hopeful that it will come imminently.

Ben Lake Portrait Ben Lake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Should legislative changes be required—I think there is support across the House for that, as has been demonstrated this evening—how best can we work with the Minister to carry through any opportunities that are identified as necessary?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

14 Oct 2020, 7:42 p.m.

Well, a very good start is a debate such as this. It has been a real eye-opener for me. I am delighted to see so much interest. I would suggest that people engage with the Department and engage with me. I am very happy to discuss these issues, which are absolutely fundamental to the energy transition that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. As I said, this is part of an ongoing conversation. I am hopeful that the energy White Paper will come hastily enough for my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney.

We have to focus on the flexibility of the whole system in terms of the current regulatory regime. If we get that right, then we can bring the innovation and perhaps some of the centralisation that the hon. Gentleman, and other hon. and right hon. Members, want to see. The prospects are considerable. We could see innovation and growth. We could see cost reductions and, most fundamentally, carbon reductions. I think that with a co-operative spirit, we can get very far. The hon. Gentleman’s actual proposal perhaps creates more problems than it solves, but I am very willing to debate and discuss that with him on a subsequent occasion.

I thank the hon. Member for Ceredigion for raising this issue and thank all Members who participated in this short but interesting debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Oral Answers to Questions

Kwasi Kwarteng Excerpts
Tuesday 29th September 2020

(1 month, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps his Department is taking to help businesses reduce emissions. [906767]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Hansard - -

As my hon. Friend knows, helping businesses reduce emissions is crucial to delivering our net zero commitment. To tackle some of our highest carbon-intensive businesses, we have just launched the £289 million industrial energy transformation fund, and we are also extending the £300 million climate change agreements scheme to incentivise businesses to invest in energy efficiency.

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister very much for his answer. The business sector has successfully reduced greenhouse gas emissions by over 30% since 1990. However, emissions from business transport are counted separately, and transport emissions have gone down only by 3% since 1990. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that we have a great opportunity in the UK to be a world leader in green transport—from electric vehicles to hydrogen lorries—and will he work closely with the Treasury to incentivise businesses to use more low emission vehicles in the future?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

29 Sep 2020, 11:44 a.m.

We do have extensive plans. We have further plans for decarbonising freight that will form part of the transport decarbonisation plan, which we expect to publish later this year. We work constantly with other Departments to ensure that we can reach our net zero targets. My hon. Friend is quite right to emphasise, in particular, the role that transport plays in carbon emissions.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

29 Sep 2020, 11:45 a.m.

If we want business to play its full part in reducing emissions and to finance the innovation and infrastructure critical to the transition to a low-carbon economy, the Government need to address the very real barriers to private investment. One obvious way to do so is through a national investment bank with a clear mandate to channel both public and private capital towards projects that aid a green recovery and help the country to achieve its net zero target. Does the Minister’s Department as a whole support the establishment of such a bank, and if so, will he update the House on what progress has been made in convincing his colleagues in the Treasury to get behind the proposal?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

It is no secret that there is plenty of discussion about a national infrastructure bank. The Green Investment Bank, which was set up in 2015, was successful, and this is something that we are constantly in conversations about.

Miriam Cates Portrait Miriam Cates (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps his Department is taking to support manufacturing. [906768]

Break in Debate

Sally-Ann Hart Portrait Sally-Ann Hart (Hastings and Rye) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps his Department is taking to support the marine energy sector. [906769]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend will know that the Government have a long history of supporting the development of marine technologies. Since 2010, we have provided £80 million in research and development funding, and last month we published a call for evidence on the potential of marine energy, and we are looking forward to those responses.

Sally-Ann Hart Portrait Sally-Ann Hart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will my hon. Friend please update the House on progress that has been made on the development of wind and wave technology around the coastline, as I know that the Crown Estate is looking at the development of wind farms off the south-east coast, near my constituency of Hastings and Rye?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is quite right. In addition to the proposed extension to the Rampion offshore wind farm off Brighton, I understand that there is significant market interest in the Crown Estate’s current seabed leasing round, and that, we expect, will include areas off the coast of the south-east of England, near my hon. Friend’s constituency.

Joy Morrissey Portrait Joy Morrissey (Beaconsfield) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps his Department is taking to support an environmentally sustainable economic recovery in the automotive sector. [906770]

Break in Debate

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps he is taking to support (a) the Mersey tidal project and (b) other new jobs and environmentally sustainable energy production on Merseyside. [906773]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Hansard - -

I reassure the hon. Lady that we are looking with great interest at the Mersey tidal project and that the Government have already funded the north-west energy hub so that we can drive huge opportunities for the region in renewable energy. I know that BEIS officials recently met representatives from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority to discuss the very Mersey tidal project that she mentions.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Highly skilled, green manufacturing jobs should power our economic recovery beyond the pandemic and it is calculated that the Mersey tidal scheme could have the potential to generate up to four times the energy of all the wind turbines in Liverpool bay—enough energy to power 1 million homes. Liverpool city region’s Mayor has already secured £2.5 million of funding for the next phase of work. Given the Minister’s positive response, will he meet with the metro Mayor, local MPs and industry experts such as Martin Land, who now heads up the project, to help to accelerate it to feed stage development at the appropriate juncture?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

I would be very happy to meet with MPs and representatives in the Mersey region. I know the Mayor, Steven Rotherham; I met him in my previous life as a DExEU Under-Secretary. I am happy to meet him and others again.

Jessica Morden Portrait Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps his Department is taking to ensure that employers do not use unfair and discriminatory practices when selecting people for redundancy. [906774]

Break in Debate

Cherilyn Mackrory Portrait Cherilyn  Mackrory  (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

  I was extremely pleased recently to welcome the Secretary of State for International Trade to Truro and Falmouth, where she was able to look at the globally significant lithium grades in geothermal waters in my constituency. Will the Minister ensure that the Government continue their part funding of this United Downs project to help it to continue its important steps towards the commercial production of lithium in Cornwall? [906825]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Hansard - -

29 Sep 2020, 12:17 p.m.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that she is doing in this area. I also congratulate the United Downs project on last month securing £4 million from the Government’s getting building fund. As the Prime Minister has said this weekend, the UK will lead by example by keeping the environment firmly on the global agenda and serving as a launchpad for a global green industrial revolution.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

29 Sep 2020, 12:18 p.m.

Two years ago, having spent £1.2 billion of taxpayers’ money developing the European Galileo programme, the Government abandoned it to build a duplicate British system at a cost of £3 billion to £5 billion; they spent tens of millions on this “me too” sat-nav system, plus half a billion pounds on OneWeb, a bankrupt American satellite company. Now we hear that the British sat-nav system is to be abandoned too—and for what? According to newspaper reports, which are better briefed than Parliament, it is so that the Prime Minister can go head to head with Elon Musk.

Break in Debate

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris (Easington) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Significant economic activity is ready to be unlocked by the Horden housing masterplan being developed by Durham County Council. The scheme ticks all the boxes: it will benefit small businesses and the green economy, improve housing, and support the Government’s levelling up and build back better agenda. Will the Minister support that plan and help to bring much-needed investment to my constituency? [906831]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

We are very supportive of any schemes in this country that promote the net-zero agenda, and I would be interested to hear details of that scheme in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I would be happy to meet him, and others, to discuss those matters further.

Christian Wakeford Portrait Christian Wakeford (Bury South) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The north of England, and in particular Bury, has the potential to become a hub for start-ups, research and development, and innovation. That should also be utilised in the fight against coronavirus and the Government’s efforts to secure a vaccine that will end the pandemic. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Vaccine Taskforce relies on the strength of the whole UK, by distributing manufacturing capacity across the country? [906833]

Break in Debate

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Of the Government’s planned six nuclear sites, so far we have the most expensive plan in the world at Hinkley, Toshiba has walked away from Moorside, and now Hitachi is giving up on Wylfa and Oldbury. Instead of relying on a Chinese state company to deliver the remining two nuclear sites, is it time for the Government to follow the private sector and ditch that outdated technology? [906832]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman and I have different views on that issue. It stands to reason that as we go towards net zero, we will need dispatchable power and a source of firm power. Most of the analysis we have seen suggests that nuclear has a part to play in that net-zero future.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Harrogate and Knaresborough has a large conference and events industry, mainly driven by the Harrogate convention centre, which is now a Nightingale hospital. I have raised the industry’s specific challenges with Ministers already, but I understand that my right hon. Friend has been having discussions with the sector directly. Will he update the House on those discussions, and will he meet me to discuss the specific challenges for the industry in my constituency? [906834]

Fracking: Rother Valley

Kwasi Kwarteng Excerpts
Monday 28th September 2020

(1 month, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley (North East Derbyshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute briefly to this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford), whose constituency neighbours the one I have the privilege to represent, on securing this debate and on the strong words that he has used tonight. He is a doughty campaigner for his constituents, and I am grateful to see another hon. Member on these Benches to join me and many other hon. Members from the previous Parliament who opposed fracking and recognised that it was not the direction that the country should go in. I welcome him and thank him again for his contribution.

I would also like to say thank you formally to the Minister, who, since he came into his position last year, has listened very carefully to those of us who have concerns. I am immensely grateful for all the time he has given us, both in the last Parliament and this, to highlight those concerns and the impact they have on our constituencies. Most importantly, I thank him for the immensely brilliant decision that he took at the end of the last Parliament to institute the moratorium, which has made such a difference to my constituency and those who have been impacted, or faced the threat of being, impacted, by fracking.

Fracking was one of the big issues for me and my constituency in the last Parliament. We were one third of the unfortunate troika that my hon. Friend referred to, with our site in Marsh Lane, a beautiful village in the parish of Eckington. An exploratory drilling site was proposed in the middle of green-belt land, which had been untouched for several centuries, as far as we could tell. That was almost universally opposed by local residents, and I, along with many campaign groups, fought against it for three years. It was the Government’s willingness to listen during that process and take feedback from communities such as mine that led to the moratorium last October. I am immensely grateful for that. It has made a transformational difference to my constituency, and we thank the Minister for it.

I will end my short contribution by saying that the strength of feeling in Marsh Lane, Eckington parish and North East Derbyshire about fracking and the need to retain this moratorium remains as it was in October. I ask the Minister, if he can, to reconfirm the Government’s intentions in this regard and to confirm that fracking will not go ahead in north Derbyshire.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Hansard - -

28 Sep 2020, 10:20 p.m.

It is always a pleasure to conduct these debates with you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I am pleased to see you in your rightful place.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) for securing this debate on an issue that I know is of great interest to not only his constituents but the wider public. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), who has shown real leadership and passion in his campaign against fracking. He has had an impact in the short time he has been here, in terms of changing people’s minds and changing, to some degree, how the Government approach this issue.

I have to stress that the Government have always taken a precautionary and evidence-based approach to this issue. We will only support domestic shale gas production if it can be done safely and sustainably. I want to address that point because events last year led us ineluctably to the point where we had to have a moratorium, but I will address that later in my speech.

As I said, the Government have taken a science-led approach to exploring the potential of shale gas. We had an open mind, but we were absolutely focused on environmental and safety regulations. In principle, we have supported the idea of fracking in the past, but it was clear, as I will demonstrate briefly, that this was not a path we wanted to pursue.

In 2011, the Government introduced a traffic light system so that regulators could take action to mitigate the risk of seismic events. Four years later—I remember being a Back Bencher at the time—we passed the Infrastructure Act 2015, which required shale gas developers to obtain hydraulic fracturing consent from the Secretary of State. All the necessary planning, environmental and health and safety permits would have to be obtained before fracking could proceed. We have been clear from the start that fracking could only go ahead if it was safe and sustainable for the environment and, crucially, as demonstrated by my hon. Friends, for local people—their constituents had to have a measure of consent. There also had to be minimal disturbance to those living and working nearby.

Last year, as my hon. Friends will remember, a number of events occurred in the summer that led us to the conclusion that we reached. In August last year, we had a seismic event with a magnitude of 2.9 on the Richter scale, which was a game changer in the story of fracking in this country. Cuadrilla, at its site in Preston New Road in Lancashire, reached that 2.9 Richter scale seismic event through fracking. I remember it vividly, as I was in France at the time—this was in the days when we could travel freely—and I had been in my post as Energy Minister for precisely three weeks. I kept a record of the daily calls I had with officials here in London and with people on the ground. We measured the seismic activity every day, and I got read-outs of the activity in the relevant area.

My hon. Friends will remember that the threshold at that time was 0.5 on the Richter scale, and that anything over that would require a necessary cessation in the fracking. So you can imagine my surprise, Mr Deputy Speaker, when one morning I was told that the Richter scale had hit 2.9. It was immediately apparent at that point that there would be no further fracking, as far as I was concerned. Obviously we had to look at the event, and we had to understand and appreciate the wider context. As I have said, we looked at the science, and in the light of the scientific evidence that emerged, we announced a moratorium in November 2019, before the general election took place. It was my duty to inform the relevant business people and investors that we would impose that moratorium.

As a consequence of the moratorium, the Government have made it clear that we will take a presumption against issuing any further hydraulic fracturing consents in this country. This sends a clear message not only to the sector but to the local communities concerned that on current evidence—I stress that it is on current evidence—fracking will not be taken forward in England. Nor is it likely that it ever will be taken up again unless there is compelling new evidence. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley implied, the world has rather moved on from fracking. He has eloquently championed the green revolution, hydrogen and a number of the new technologies that we think will get us to net zero. He described hydraulic fracturing as a technology of the past, and it is not something that we envisage in our future or in our progress towards net zero.

On that basis, the Government have no plans whatsoever to review the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. We will not support fracking unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely and without inconvenience. As I have said, this is extremely unlikely to happen, as far as I am concerned. In fact, there has been no fracking since August 2019 and no applications for hydraulic fracturing consents have been made. There will be no fracking for the foreseeable future in the Rother Valley or anywhere else in this country.

I would like to conclude by praising both my hon. Friends. They have not been in the House very long, but they have clearly made their voices and, more importantly, the voices of their constituents heard in this place, and they have been listened to. The objectives for which they have campaigned passionately over a number of years—certainly in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire—have been attained. They have been successful and I just enjoin them graciously to accept victory in this particular debate. I commend them both for the level of passion and enthusiasm with which they have engaged with green issues, including the green economy, the green revolution and what my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley called the “hub of green renewable energy”. I look forward to taking part in debates with them on the green revolution and seeing how best we can ensure that we reach a net zero future for ourselves and for future generations.

Question put and agreed to.

Oral Answers to Questions

Kwasi Kwarteng Excerpts
Tuesday 21st July 2020

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

What plans he has to promote a green recovery from the covid-19 outbreak. [905075]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

21 Jul 2020, 11:52 a.m.

The Prime Minister has made clear our intention to build back greener. We are taking action to deliver on that commitment, including through a commitment of over £3 billion to reduce emissions from our buildings across the UK, £800 million to promote carbon capture from power stations and industry, and a further £100 million being invested in R&D in direct air capture technologies.

Tom Randall Portrait Tom Randall
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

21 Jul 2020, 11:52 a.m.

I am delighted that the Chancellor focused on creating green jobs in his summer economic update. Does my right hon. Friend agree that launching a multi-billion pound drive to improve the energy efficiency of homes will not only be good for creating jobs and driving us towards our net zero target but will save people money on their energy bills?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

21 Jul 2020, 11:53 a.m.

My hon. Friend is exactly right. Our £3 billion investment in energy efficiency could support up to 140,000 green jobs. The £2 billion green homes grant will upgrade over 600,000 homes, saving households up to £600 a year on their energy bills.

Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

21 Jul 2020, 11:53 a.m.

I agree that it is great to have jobs created. Insulating homes creates jobs across all regions of the UK, yet right now it is having the opposite effect. Labour has been contacted by insulation businesses who are experiencing cancelled work as clients now want to wait until September, when green homes grant money is available. Will the Minister fix this problem, and fix it now, by stating that jobs done in July and August can claim green homes grant funding in September?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady asks a very pertinent question. The Chancellor set out a £3 billion programme, and of course it will take time before that money is fully deployed. As well as the green homes upgrade, we have committed £320 million to the heat networks investment project, which is very relevant to the kind of work that she has described.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

21 Jul 2020, 11:50 a.m.

With the Government having committed to invest in the bioscience sector in York, making it the heart of the green new deal, they are now trying to make that conditional on a local government reorganisation that is not only deeply unpopular but is also, frankly, unworkable. In the light of comments that York’s economy will be the second-worst hit in the country, with unemployment rising to as high as 28%, will the Minister instead now bring forward that investment, to prevent mass unemployment in my city, to prevent unnecessary economic pain and to kick-start investment in green-collar jobs?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

As the hon. Lady knows, we are absolutely committed to creating green-collar jobs. Today, we have 460,000 of those jobs across the UK; by 2030, we have stated our commitment to have 2 million such jobs. No one can deny our commitment to creating green jobs. I would further add that we are also committed to making the UK a science superpower, and we will make innovation central to our green recovery. That is absolutely front and centre of what the Government are trying to do.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Commenting on his own report back in 2017, Charles Hendry said,

“the evidence is clear that tidal lagoons can play a cost effective role in the UK’s energy mix”.

This Government still have not managed to back the oven-ready pathfinder tidal energy project in Swansea bay. When will they recognise the opportunities, the new green jobs and the inward investment support that tidal power can bring to Swansea, Wales and the rest of the UK?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

We are absolutely committed, as the hon. Lady knows, to tidal power and all forms of marine power. There was a specific issue with the Swansea bay tidal lagoon project, which was that it was felt not to be economical. That was a specific, project-based, single incidence where we did not feel that it was value for taxpayers’ money.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

21 Jul 2020, 12:05 a.m.

All we have right now, as far as energy efficiency for homes is concerned, is an announcement of a one-year scheme to provide vouchers for energy efficiency improvements in mostly lower priority properties, with no detail yet as to how that will work. The Minister simply did not answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) about businesses in the field who are telling us that jobs are being lost now, because people are cancelling work in anticipation of those details, if and when they come out.

What we need for green recovery is a long-term programme that develops jobs and skills and really contributes towards low carbon energy efficiency improvements across all homes in England and Wales. When does the Minister intend to provide details of how the short-term plan will work and what is he doing to establish a proper long-term home energy efficiency programme on the back of that plan?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

21 Jul 2020, 12:04 a.m.

Obviously, the hon. Gentleman and I will have slightly different views of what the Government are doing. I was surprised to hear him dismiss the £3 billion commitment. I remind him that green homes grants will deliver improvements to more than 650,000 homes, supporting 140,000 jobs in 2020-21. These are significant strides and a huge amount of money has been committed to that programme.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps he has taken to ensure that the indoor air quality of offices, shops, restaurants and bars is adequate to help prevent the spread of covid-19 among workers and customers. [905057]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The Government have provided clear advice on ventilation in our safer workplaces guide. We are led by the science in that work and, as the scientific and medical advice changes, the guidance will be updated to reflect that.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister should know that the science now shows that indoor air pollution dramatically increases coronavirus infection and death rates, and that masks inhibit the transmission of the virus. Will he today press to follow France’s lead to make compulsory mask-wearing the law in all indoor environments accessible by the public, and include indoor air pollution in the terms of the Environment Bill in September, in order to save lives and protect our NHS?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

As I said in my earlier answer, we are guided all the time by science and evidence and, as the science and evidence changes, we will calibrate our policy responses to that effect.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps his Department is taking to encourage home working; and if he will make a statement. [905059]

Break in Debate

Paul Howell Portrait Paul  Howell  (Sedgefield)  (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

  I have received a letter from James Ritchie, the chief executive of Tekmar, based in my Newton Aycliffe industrial estate. He is also the chairman of Energi Coast, the UK’s leading energy cluster, whose members employ more than 3,000 people. He believes that the offshore wind hub would be perfectly placed in Teesside. The region includes a number of left-behind communities, in vital need of levelling up in jobs. That opportunity would support them and benefit my Sedgefield constituency. Can the Secretary of State assure me of his vital support in helping me and the Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen to bring the hub to Teesside and honour our pledge to the blue wall voters? [905116]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Hansard - -

I am delighted to assure my hon. Friend that the Government are, as he knows, determined to ensure the rapid expansion of the offshore wind manufacturing supply chain. We have committed to 40 GW of offshore wind by 2030, and I fully agree with him that the north-east region is critical to that development. I know the project to which he is referring, and officials and myself are looking closely at its viability.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The non-payment of the national minimum wage in Leicester garment factories was shocking, but unfortunately unsurprising. Exploitation in the garment industry has been extensively reported for years, including in a 2019 Environmental Audit Committee report. The cases we know about are likely to be the tip of the iceberg. Given that these abusive working practices are not only criminal, but a threat to public health, will the Secretary of State tell the House what steps he has taken to escalate enforcement in light of the covid-19 pandemic?

Break in Debate

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for championing the life sciences sector and my hon. Friend the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth for championing the cause of universities and researchers, but we also have a superb charitable medical research sector in the United Kingdom. With the loss of funding due to covid-19, will my right Friend commit to working with the medical research charities to ensure that they can continue to work on creating the next generation of medical treatments for patients? [905119]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

As my hon. Friend will know, in June 2020 we announced a support package to enable universities to continue their vital research. Universities will be required to use some of that funding for research normally funded by medical research charities. We are continuing to look at this situation and we hope to engage closely with charities to develop an even more robust package.

Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My constituents are particularly concerned about Marks and Spencer’s announcement that it will indefinitely close its East Kilbride store due to covid-19, undermining our town centre. Will the Secretary of State support a “fit to trade” licensing scheme proposed by the all-party parliamentary group for textiles and fashion—which I chair—alongside the British Retail Consortium, which will not only offer protection for garment workers across the UK, but provide an incentive for retailers to invest in UK manufacturing, creating thousands of skilled jobs and aiding the economic recovery plan? [905117]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady raises an interesting point, and I or one of my fellow Ministers would be happy to meet her to discuss it further.

Cheryl Gillan Portrait Dame Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Air pollution has a direct impact on children’s health. My 13-year-old constituent Tom Hunt is perhaps the first person to measure air pollution at ground level, by collaborating with his labrador dog Baggy, who has been wearing a pollution monitor on his collar. His father Matt owns an alternative energy company, Bio Global Industries, in my constituency, and supported him. The data showed that air pollution is two-thirds higher, closer to the ground. Will the Secretary of State join me in commending Tom and Baggy for that really enterprising research, and look at recommending to manufacturers a greater emphasis on producing higher buggies, strollers and pushchairs, which will keep young children further away from the concentrated air pollution that he found closer to the ground? [905121]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

I am delighted to join my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in commending Tom Hunt and Baggy for their pioneering work. She knows that tackling carbon emissions and improving air quality go hand in hand. We are taking action to address both, particularly with the 300,000 ultra low emission vehicles registered in the UK, and we are also providing new funding for vehicle charging infrastructure.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Further to the question by the hon. Member for Bolton West (Chris Green), may I push the Government on clinical trials and medical research? Medical research has saved hundreds of thousands of lives in this country in recent years. I have known people this year who started on a clinical trial that was their only hope of life. It was suspended because of coronavirus and now they have died. We need to make sure that the money is getting into the medical research charities. Last week, Cancer Research UK said that it would lose 500 members of staff and cut its research to £150 million. We need the Government to act fast to get these clinical trials up and going again—and the medical research, too. [905122]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight this issue and I share a lot of his concerns, but it is wrong to suggest that we are not doing anything. From autumn this year, we are providing a package of low-interest loans with long payback periods, supplemented by a small element of grant, to cover up to 80% of the universities’ income losses from international students. The money that is being pumped into our further education deals precisely with the point that he raised, and we are continuing to do that.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Because the exhibitions industry generates so much additional economic activity we should reopen it fully immediately, shouldn’t we? [905128]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

My right hon. Friend raises an important point. Of course we recognise the valiant contribution that the sector makes to the UK economy. We are working closely with the sector to pilot the reopening of conference centres, with a view to full socially distanced reopening from 1 October, subject of course to continuing to make progress.

Jessica Morden Portrait Jessica  Morden  (Newport East)  (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

  Constituents are still reporting a catalogue of problems with bounce-back loans, including long waits to be approved and being turned down for business bank accounts because of credit ratings. When will Ministers get to grips with that, to ensure that all eligible businesses apply and receive the loans quickly? [905127]

Break in Debate

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton (Blackpool South) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The economic impact of covid-19 is likely to be particularly acute in coastal resorts such as Blackpool, which are heavily reliant on seasonal tourism. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to diversify the local economy in such resorts and to support businesses to create well-paid, skilled jobs in emerging industries in these areas? [905130]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, because it goes to the heart of what we are doing as a Government. We already have more than 460,000 UK jobs in low-carbon businesses and their supply chains. Those are green-collar jobs and our research and development is totally committed to expanding those opportunities, whereby we want to reach 2 million green jobs by 2030. It is my conviction that coastal communities such as the one he represents will fully benefit and be in a place where they can reap the rewards of our investment in the green economy.

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Money for the aerospace technology industry is welcome, but it is money for a future that may not exist if we do not save the aerospace industry today. Will the Secretary of State and his Ministers agree to sit down with industry leaders, trade unions and hon. Members in this House to form a recovery plan and a sector deal specifically for the aerospace sector, which of course generates five jobs for every job in the sector itself? [905133]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the key importance of the aviation sector, and the Government are supporting aerospace and its aviation customers with more than £8.5 billion, as part of our measures to support the overall economy. I understand that Airbus has drawn down £500 million on the corporate finance facility, and of course the Secretary of State and the ministerial team are happy to engage with him and his constituents on this important matter.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that my right hon. Friend does not underestimate how difficult this year has been for hospitality businesses in North Devon. I warmly welcome the action the Government have taken to get people safely back into our pubs, restaurants and cafés. Will he join me in visiting The Bell Inn, in Chittlehampton, to look at the fantastic hard work that has been done there to ensure that all the appropriate measures are in place to reopen? [905135]

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy: Departmental Spending

Kwasi Kwarteng Excerpts
Tuesday 7th July 2020

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

7 Jul 2020, 12:04 a.m.

Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes a very good point: other countries have done it and we have been calling for sector-specific packages for those in most need. The Government have done it for steel; let us get on and do it for aerospace and the other sectors that need additional support.

A number of other Members mentioned the environment and climate emergency. Given the primacy of the climate threat over the long term and BEIS’s lead role in ensuring that our country plays its part in tackling it, I want to use the time that I have to focus on the Department’s record in driving progress towards the net zero target for which we legislated just over a year ago.

Although 2050 is too late, we can continue to take pride in the fact that we were the first major economy to adopt a legally binding target to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero. But setting a target is one thing; hitting it is quite another. As things stand, not only are the Government failing to do anything like enough to meet our legally binding 2050 target, but they are not even on track to meet the less ambitious target that preceded it. I am afraid Ministers give every impression of being entirely relaxed about that fact. How else do we explain that over the past 12 months, while basking in the virtuous afterglow of legislating for net zero, the Government have done precious little to set us on the road to carbon neutrality?

The Committee on Climate Change put it in characteristically diplomatic terms when it stated in a recent annual progress report that last year

“was not the year of policy progress that the Committee called for in 2019.”

The charge is irrefutable.

According to the CCC, last year the Government failed on 14 of the 21 progress indicators, fell further behind in many areas, and met only two of 31 key policy milestones. It is simply not good enough.

The human, economic and social cost of the coronavirus crisis has been severe, but as we turn our attention to rebuilding the Government have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to accelerate the decarbonisation of our economy and make up lost ground, and it is imperative that they seize it. There have been some positive signs in recent weeks that suggest that the Government may recognise the force of this argument. Take the package on energy efficiency measures that was trailed yesterday. We believe that the amount allocated to social housing is woefully inadequate, we take issue with the fact that the private rented sector has been almost entirely overlooked, and we have concerns about whether it will be possible to deliver in the seven-month window provided, but the investment is welcome. However, it has to be the first step, rather than the last word, when it comes to energy efficiency; the start of a long-term, year-on-year programme of support rather than merely a one-off annual boost. The same principle must apply in other areas.

All of which is to say that when it comes to judging the impact of tomorrow’s statement and the autumn spending review on our decarbonisation efforts, what matters is not only the scale and nature of the stimulus, but whether the measures to be announced form part of a co-ordinated long-term approach and are interwoven with the policy change required to drive emissions reductions through the remainder of this crucial decade.

If we are to get on track for net zero, the impetus ultimately has to come from the centre, but for obvious reasons BEIS has a crucial role to play in supporting the centre to set that strategic direction on decarbonisation and direct its spending appropriately to that end. Yet in several crucial areas the Department is still failing to provide the clear, stable and well-designed policy framework that businesses and investors require.

With that in mind, I will finish by putting a series of specific questions on the record, in the hope that the Minister may be able to answer at least some of them in his response. First, for the past year, as we have heard, we have been repeatedly promised that the energy White Paper, the aim of which is to provide much-needed certainty to business on the future energy system, is imminent, yet there is no indication in the estimates we are debating today that the Department is preparing for anything other than business as usual. Are we therefore to assume that the White Paper will be further delayed, or is it still the Department’s intention to publish it before the end of this year and then ask the Treasury for the necessary additional resources at a later date?

Secondly, when it comes to the decarbonisation of heat, the estimates merely appear to contain a broadly static commitment to expenditure on the renewable heat incentive. Leaving aside whether funds allocated to the RHI will be rolled over to underpin other proposed low-carbon heat schemes, does the Minister agree that the total resources currently allocated by the Department to heat are nowhere near enough to respond to the challenge presented by this most difficult of sectors?

Thirdly, taking the estimates in the round, is the Minister not uncomfortable about the apparent disparity between the lofty ambitions set out by his Department when it comes to low-carbon energy, particularly in the clean growth plan of 2017, and the focus of day-to-day spending by the Department on older, high-carbon sources?

Fourthly, and finally, given the commitment to phase out coal from our energy system entirely by 2024, why has the application for a new open-cast mine at Highthorn in Northumberland not been dismissed out of hand by the Government?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Hansard - -

7 Jul 2020, 12:05 a.m.

It is a pleasure to respond to this excellent debate, and I commend all hon. Members who have spoken for their thoughtful contributions. In particular, I thank the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) for opening the debate.

I will deal first with the series of questions posed by the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook). His first question was about the energy White Paper, which we fully expect to be published this year. He will understand that after the new Government took office in July last year, we had the summer recess, followed by the Prorogation debate, debates about the election, then the general election, the Budget and then covid. There were substantial reasons—they are regrettable, I accept—why the White Paper was delayed. We fully expect it to be published this autumn.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the decarbonisation of heat. I refer him to the fact that we have a heat in buildings strategy, which will outline the policies clearly and simply. There is certainly a great deal of movement in that area.

The hon. Gentleman said that there are lofty ambitions for day-to-day spending, and suggested that our spending is perhaps more carbon-emitting than it should be. We have actually had great success on the carbon emissions front, particularly in electricity generation. He will know that in 2010, when I entered in the House—he entered in 2015—offshore wind seemed like a fantasy, but in 10 years we have massively ramped up capacity. People say flippantly, “Oh, well, the cost is £39.50 per MWh”—the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) said that—but that did not just happen by accident. It was a serious attempt by a serious Government to construct an auction—a CfD round—and it managed to drive down costs. It was led by policy and evidence. It has been very successful and is admired throughout the world. That is an example of BEIS delivering substantial change and innovation on carbon emissions reduction and the climate change debate.

On the open-cast coal mine that the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich mentioned, that was a difficult question that involved the local community and consideration of the amounts of coal and jobs. He will accept that, as far as the coal ambition is concerned, the initial date for removing coal entirely from the electricity generating network was 2025, but we will deliver it a year in advance. How often is a Government anywhere in the world able to say in a parliamentary assembly such as this, “We are going to do better than our target”? That is another area where he is on very shaky ground.

Jackie Doyle-Price Portrait Jackie Doyle-Price
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

7 Jul 2020, 12:05 a.m.

The fact of the matter is that there are industrial processes that still require coal for generation. Is it not better that we mine coal in this country, rather than ship it from Siberia and Australia?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

7 Jul 2020, 12:05 a.m.

That may well be the case, but I think taking coal off the electricity generating system—the power generation network—is historically one of the most significant things that this country has done. If we look back in our own lifetimes, we see that coal and industrial questions relating to it were a dominant part of industrial and political debate only 20, 30 or 40 years ago, but in 2024 we hope to remove coal entirely from electricity generation. That is a huge success. We typically do not get the credit we would like in this House, but that is a significant achievement.

I want to talk briefly about some of the broader questions relating to this debate. It would be invidious of me to single out individual speeches, as there were so many good ones, but there are one or two areas where I want to reconfirm Government policy and give a good account of what we have achieved.

Many of the speeches I heard as I sat on the Treasury Bench were understandably focused on the Government’s response to the covid-19 outbreak. At the start of the crisis, the Government made it perfectly clear that we would do whatever it took to support our businesses and economy, and we have substantially delivered on that. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun mentioned the £330 billion commitment from the Treasury and said that it is an example of failure because the amount of debt—the loans that we have given—is a fraction of that, but of course the £330 billion also includes the furlough scheme, which was not in the form of a loan. It was the Government intervening and paying wages. It was a huge intervention, and it had nothing to do with loans. I am sure the hon. Gentleman understands that. This has been a cross-Government effort, and we in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have played our part in delivering a range of Government-backed finance schemes.

Let me re-enumerate those schemes: the coronavirus business interruption loans scheme, the bounce back loans, the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme, and the future fund, which is an equity-to-debt scheme. As of this week, £45 billion-worth of loans have been approved through those schemes, backed largely by Government guarantees.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is listing a lot of things that have been done in the past. My constituents want to know what is going to happen next, particularly those in the aerospace sector who are losing their jobs now. They look at France and Germany, where they see support for that sector. Can we have sector-specific support, please?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

7 Jul 2020, 12:04 a.m.

The accusation from some quarters of the House was that the Government had not done enough, and it was very much necessary to state for the record what we actually had done, and that is what I will proceed to do.

In the last few minutes of my remarks, I turn my attention to what is at the centre of the Department and at the centre of its strategy: the net zero commitment. I think it was the hon. Member for Bristol North West who said that this cannot just be a stand-alone policy. It is not; it is at the heart and centre of Government strategy. I also reject those voices that say that somehow we are the laggards and the backward students. That is a completely wrong characterisation. I mentioned coal. Germany’s date to remove coal from its electricity power generation is 2038—a whole 14 years after this Government and this country will have left coal behind. We are leaders, not followers, in many of these respects. The Prime Minister outlined in his speech on 30 June that we intend to

“build back better, build back greener, build back faster”,

and that is exactly what we intend to do.

The Prime Minister has already spoken of our plans to run 4,000 new zero-carbon buses and the new plan for cycleways as part of the upgrades to transport infrastructure. Since the outbreak of covid-19 in this country, we have published the first stage of our transport decarbonisation plan. That plan provides a measure of certainty and a clear pathway to the future. We have announced a £2 billion package for cycling and to encourage people to walk, which is not only more energy efficient, but also tackles issues such as obesity and exercise. We can remobilise and decarbonise at the same time, and that is exactly what we intend to do.

The hon. Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) made a passionate set of speeches, and I agree with her to some degree—we can always do better and go faster—but I disagree with the idea that somehow we have simply idled our time away and done nothing.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your patience and for the very brisk way in which the debate has been handled. We have heard some excellent speeches. BEIS is now considering how best to support businesses. The green recovery is at the heart of what we want to do post covid, and we are exceptionally focused—more than any other Department—on delivering the strategic goal of net zero. In all this work, we will continue to listen to businesses, large and small. I particularly look forward to engaging in debate with Members of this House, as I have done in the past. We are also listening to business representative organisations. We are determined to get it right for individuals and businesses who need support, for our economy and for the future.

Darren Jones Portrait Darren Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the many right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions today. Whether on key sectors such as the aerospace sector and the beauty industry, about which we have heard from through hon. Members in this debate, or with loud voices such as Unite the union for aerospace, or over 400 letters from thousands of workers and women to the Minister regarding the beauty industry; whether from the Petitions Committee on parents; whether on our lack of progress on net zero; whether on entrepreneurs and those who have fallen between the cracks, the demand on the Government has been clear this evening. That is, we expect a more sophisticated, coherent and transparent set of policies from the Government. With all due respect, the Minister was unable to announce anything about the future this evening. I hope that is because we will hear the plan that we need for Britain and British workers tomorrow from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. No doubt we will all be back to hear that and to hold the Government to account tomorrow.

Question deferred until Thursday 9 July at Five o’clock (Standing Order No. 54).

Oral Answers to Questions

Kwasi Kwarteng Excerpts
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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What steps he is taking to develop hydrogen technology in the UK. [903255]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Hansard - -

We are investing up to £121 million between 2015 and 2021 in hydrogen innovation, supporting the application of new low-carbon hydrogen technologies across the value chain. I have had valuable discussions with businesses on the importance of scaling up hydrogen supply, including with Wrightbus, in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I echo the sentiments expressed about our late colleague, Jo Cox.

The Minister will be aware that Germany announced in the last number of weeks that it is investing £5 billion in hydrogen technology. It joins the long list of countries investing billions of pounds, which includes Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia, as well as the EU. The £121 million to which he referred is very welcome, but it will never make us the leader of the pack in this industry. Let us move on from trials, Minister. Let us move on to real investment in this technology and become the world leader that Britain and the United Kingdom can be in this wonderful technology, which will create jobs and provide more employment across the whole UK.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for that technology. The countries that he describes have announced commitments to spending the money; they have not spent the money yet. We will be following and pursuing that technology very rigorously, with full Government backing, in due course.

Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Môn) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to tackle climate change. [903256]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Hansard - -

Since 1990 we have grown the economy by 75% while cutting emissions by 43%, and in June 2019, we became the first major economy to legislate for a net zero carbon emissions target.

We are hosting the COP26 climate negotiations next year. Along with our G7 presidency, we are determined to use our international leadership to drive global climate ambition.

Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What assessment has my right hon. Friend’s Department made of the potentially significant role that nuclear power can play, in the hydrogen production from both large and small reactors? Does he agree that Wylfa Newydd, in my constituency of Ynys Môn, is the jewel in the crown of new nuclear sites?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. New nuclear obviously has an important part to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We are investing in new nuclear. On Wylfa, I am afraid, I cannot comment on the merits of the site, given that the Secretary of State is currently considering a development consent application. That said, there are a number of potentially good sites around the entire United Kingdom.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The COP26 summit, now rescheduled for November 2021, will be a critical moment in a fight against runaway global heating. We all have a stake in ensuring that it is a success. Building momentum for that summit and establishing our credibility as its host is dependent on demonstrable leadership at home. In that regard, does the Minister agree that there is a strong case for publishing our nationally determined contribution before the end of 2020, and an arguable case for basing that NDC on a significantly enhanced 2030 target that puts us on the path to achieving net zero?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is, of course, president of the COP26. He is committed to publishing very rigorous and ambitious targets for ourselves. As I responded to my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie), we are second to none in our commitment—our legislation—in terms of dealing with climate change. We have legislation that is very clear and sets the path.

Marion Fellows Portrait Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps he is taking to support the sustainability of the post office network. [903257]

Break in Debate

Mark Jenkinson Portrait Mark Jenkinson (Workington) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My constituency has nearly 30 miles of coastline from Workington to Bowness-on-Solway, with some of the highest tidal ranges in the UK. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the potential benefits of tidal range barrages along the Cumbrian coast—not only the benefits to energy production security but the wider socioeconomic benefits that integrated infra- structure might bring? [903316]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Hansard - -

16 Jun 2020, 12:19 p.m.

The Department is aware of several projects being considered on rivers and estuaries such as the Wyre, the Duddon, Morecambe bay and the Solway firth, and we have had frequent contacts with developers. We remain open to considering well-developed, well-considered projects that can demonstrate strong value for money alongside other renewable generation.

Owen Thompson Portrait Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The coronavirus business interruption loan scheme—CBILS —was supposed to offer a lifeline of support to struggling businesses, but it is not reaching those who need it the most. Sky-high interest rates are now being offered by some lenders, and that is making it less of a lifeline and more like picking the bones off desperate smaller firms. Will the Secretary of State press the Chancellor to take action now to stop this unfair profiteering and ensure that businesses pay no more than 2.5% interest, in line with the bounce-back scheme? [903320]

Break in Debate

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will begin the question again, Mr Speaker. Will the Minister ensure that contracts for difference funding will only be made available to onshore wind farms in Scotland that have local community support?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for the question. He will know that local consent and local support are absolutely key to the pot one auction, but he will also be aware that planning policy is a devolved matter in Scotland, and it is therefore for the Scottish Government to set up national planning policies and the approach to declining planning applications. He is well aware that this Government have been very focused on local consent right through this process.

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I also concur with the remarks made about my friend and colleague Jo Cox. We remember her today and what she stood for. As a member of the Transport Committee, I stand by our description of British Airways as a “national disgrace” for the way it has effectively fired most of its staff and will rehire some of them on vastly cut pay and conditions. BA has done that under the cloak of the pandemic and gone way beyond any other major employer. The aviation sector will take longer to recover. When that does happen, I hope the Government will step in to support the sector. When they do so, will they ensure that employers cannot get away with the tactics of British Airways and also commit to delivering on climate change? [903330]

Break in Debate

Lee Anderson Portrait Lee  Anderson  (Ashfield)  (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

  Many constituents, from right across Ashfield, have been in touch with me as they are very concerned that they will be made redundant by Rolls-Royce. With Rolls-Royce announcing last week the locations of its first 3,000 redundancies in the UK, what more can my right hon. Friend say to reassure my constituents that the Government are doing everything they can to ensure that they are supporting the employees affected, as these are the people who have worked so hard to establish the company’s world-leading position? If any of these highly-skilled and professional workers are made redundant, what are the Government’s plans to ensure that their skills are repurposed to other projects? [903340]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend raises a hugely important issue. Employment and the possibilities and opportunities for people are something we are absolutely focused on. I assure him that we will do all we can to help those who will be affected by this announcement to get back into work as quickly as possible. This will include working with the Department for Work and Pensions, Jobcentre Plus and Rolls-Royce itself to make sure that economic opportunities and jobs are freely available to those who might be affected.

Kenny MacAskill Portrait Kenny MacAskill (East Lothian) (SNP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My constituency stands to benefit from offshore energy coming ashore, yet it is hampered by prejudicial grid charges and investment in infrastructure going elsewhere. Will the Minister end the discriminatory charging regime and support Scottish Government schemes seeking to ensure that Scotland benefits from its natural resource off its shore and does not lose out, as it did with oil and gas? [903339]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

I do not think that is a fair characterisation of the situation. We have huge offshore capacity; 35% of the global offshore wind capacity is in the UK, with much of it sited in Scotland. Scottish firms are extremely capable of competing in the auctions, and I do not think it is fair to characterise our position in the way that the hon. Gentleman has.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am now suspending the House for five minutes.

Electricity

Kwasi Kwarteng Excerpts
Monday 15th June 2020

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Hansard - -

15 Jun 2020, 12:05 a.m.

I beg to move,

That the draft Electricity Capacity (Amendment etc.) (Coronavirus) Regulations, which were laid before this House on 20 May, be approved.

Before outlining some of the provisions made by this draft instrument, I will briefly provide some context. The capacity market is at the heart of the Government’s strategy for maintaining the security of electricity supplies in Great Britain. It secures the capacity needed to meet future peak electricity demand, in a range of scenarios, through competitive technology-neutral auctions, which are normally held four years and one year ahead of the relevant delivery year. This draft instrument, together with capacity market rules changes to be made, performs two broad functions. First, it will ensure that the capacity market remains compliant with its state aid approval by giving effect to Government commitments recorded in the state aid approval decision. Secondly, it will make temporary modifications to support providers in the light of the effects of coronavirus.

The context of the capacity market state aid approval is, briefly as follows. The EU Commission state aid approval of the capacity market in 2014 was annulled in November 2018 by a judgment of the general court of the Court of Justice of the European Union. This introduced the standstill of normal operations of the capacity market until October 2019, when the European Commission completed its reinvestigation of the capacity market and granted state aid approval. On the back of this approval, the Commission state aid approval in October 2019 recorded the Government’s commitments to make technical changes to the capacity market design, to reflect recent market and regulatory developments, including reforms that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy had already identified through the statutory five-year review of the capacity market in July 2019.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am glad that the Minister has started with the very important context, because, of course, an 80-page EU document explaining the history and the requirements should have been appended to our documents. Why, however, do we think it a good idea to comply with the proposition that our interconnector imported energy has to increase from 4% to 9% of our total by 2021, when we should be going for self-reliance and resilience?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

I know that my right hon. Friend is a noted sceptic about climate change—or he was, certainly, until very recently—but he will know that any country that, like us, wants to reach the net zero commitment will necessarily be reliant on much greater interconnector capacity, from Europe in many instances and sometimes from countries such as Norway that are outside the EU, than is currently the case. That is exactly why we are proceeding on this path.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Should we not be looking at the underlying proposition, given the enormous increase in renewables? Is it not absurd that we have been importing electricity through the interconnector while paying renewable companies, particularly those connected to wind farms but also to solar, to switch off because of low levels of demand? Is there not a disconnect in this market at the moment?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

I think there are issues, which the right hon. Gentleman raises, with regard to pricing and the ability to have a much more flexible grid system. With respect, however, these regulations have nothing to do with that. That is a separate debate.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With respect, the Minister seems to be embedding the current dysfunctional system into new regulation. I fully accept that the Government have to do something about this because of EU decisions, but, equally, there does not seem to be, and I do not get the sense of, an understanding that this is a defective mechanism that needs to be reformed, and probably quite quickly.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the system needs to evolve. We are looking at some of the smart pricing he alludes to and the flexibility of the system, and I am sure he will read our White Paper with interest. However, the issue of the flexibility of the system is not really germane to this statutory instrument on the capacity market, which, as he and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) know, is a technology-neutral device.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Have the Government taken into consideration the demand on energy that will arise from their policy to build 100,000 houses a year over the next few years? Are the Government’s goals, as set out by the Minister, achievable, given that house building programme and the associated increase in population?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

I think it is achievable, but what the hon. Gentleman is talking about is way outside the scope of this statutory instrument. As I have said, we are talking about flexible pricing; we are talking about the growth of renewables. This Government have committed to 40 GW of offshore wind power by 2030, which is a marked increase on the 30 GW ambition that we had. We are talking about nuclear as well—we have Hinkley Point. There are all sorts of generating power on the system. As I have said, we have a White Paper coming up, which talks about all these issues. Once again, with respect, I have to say that this is a very specific SI regarding the operation of the capacity market. The House will have plenty of time to debate other forms of electricity and power generation in the weeks ahead.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is it still not the point, as the Minister has said, that there needs to be greater flexibility, that the market needs to evolve and that he could therefore still be more ambitious with these regulations? If he is tying changes to state aid in the regulations to effectively temporary measures regarding coronavirus, it is quite clear that that is about flexibility and how he could approach that. Could he not have been a bit more ambitious with what is in these regulations?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

All I can do is repeat the answer that I have given. These regulations reflect our past discussions about the operation of the capacity market. He and I and others in this Chamber will have plenty of time to debate a new system. I ask the hon. Gentleman to have a little patience. We have a White Paper coming up and it would be precipitous to have an extensive debate about these issues in legislation ahead of the publication of the White Paper. He has asked many questions about that, and I advise him to wait for the debate on the White Paper.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not know why the Minister referred to climate change in answer to my previous question. I was not talking about that and, as he says, it has nothing to do with the regulations, so may I have another go? Why have we agreed to more than double our importation of energy through interconnectors? Is it a good principle that we should be paying a capacity payment to foreign providers of electricity who want to sell us their surplus power, but who would not necessarily have it available when we wanted it?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

In regard to climate change, my right hon. Friend will know that one of the big issues, or successes, that we have had in decarbonising electricity power generation has been through taking coal off the grid and having renewables. All the assessments that we have had and looked at show that an increase in interconnector capacity is part of that mix, just as nuclear is part of the mix, just as offshore wind and now onshore wind— the pot one auction—are part of the mix. All these things are part of the decarbonisation story of our power, and this is very important to us, which is why we have increased—or seek to increase—our interconnector capacity.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Has the Minister finished?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

15 Jun 2020, 12:08 a.m.

I was just anticipating further interventions. I will try to make some progress if I may. I want to turn in particular to the temporary modifications that the draft instrument seeks to make in recognition of the fact that coronavirus has made a big impact—a negative impact in some cases—on the ability of capacity providers to meet some of their obligations under the capacity market rules. The approach we are taking, in making temporary easements, is similar to that adopted to support capacity providers during the capacity market’s standstill last year, and these measures are fully accounted for in the draft legislation. As the disruptive effects of coronavirus may lead to more capacity providers facing termination of their agreements, this draft instrument will increase the time for capacity providers to appeal against notices to terminate their agreements to the Secretary of State. The legislation will also provide the Secretary of State with discretion to extend the time for capacity providers to comply with requirements in order to avoid a termination.

In conclusion, this draft instrument will ensure security of electricity supply by ensuring that the capacity market continues to comply with its state aid approval and by reducing burdens on capacity providers during the coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, we fully believe that these changes will maintain absolute integrity and confidence in the market. On that basis, I commend the draft regulations to the House.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

15 Jun 2020, 6:15 p.m.

I concur with the Minister that today is not the time to have a major debate about a number of wider issues relating to energy, although there are lots of issues which we could debate. Among others, there is the whole question of whether the capacity market itself is fit for purpose in our present energy arrangements. I do not intend to raise that issue today, but I hope there will be other occasions on which it can be raised and discussed.

I look forward to the emergence of the White Paper, which the Minister mentioned. We are now almost on the first birthday of the imminent emergence of the White Paper, so it would be helpful if he could indicate when the White Paper actually will emerge and, when it does, whether it will be fully formed or more of a greenish White Paper than a whitish White Paper. I am sure that he will be able to elucidate this afternoon exactly what form it will take and when it will arrive, which I trust is very shortly.

This statutory instrument does two things in particular. First, it introduces a number of changes to the capacity market, following the annulment and eventual reinstatement of the UK capacity market’s state aid approval by the EU Court and the European Commission. Secondly, it introduces a number of measures relating to performance requirements, the Secretary of State’s discretion, and how reconsideration and review of decisions take place in respect of the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on construction, finances and network connections.

The Opposition regard the measures in the second part of the SI as sensible and proportionate to the particular problems we have at the moment. It is right that, where capacity market contractors have problems with construction deadlines or financing arrangements, there should be the leeway and discretion set out in the SI to help them through the difficulties that exist at the moment.

However, I have one small question about that part of the SI. The Minister mentioned that there will be leeway and discretion on deadlines—for example, in terms of assurances of performance in the run-up to the capacity market operation. I note that arrangements for assurances of performance or termination of contracts for non-performance have expanded from six months to 12 months. That provides—particularly where a capacity market contractee has contracted in the T-1 market—for the possibility of ending the contract because of non-performance right up to the point at which that performance is expected to take place. Does the Minister have any concerns about that potential timescale? If not, why not? If he does have concerns, could any other formulation that protects the arrangements in the way I have described be used to get around that problem? I would be grateful for his views on that.

There are some more serious issues with the other part of the SI, which makes changes to the capacity market rules. As the Minister has informed us, those changes arise as a result of the coming back to life of the capacity market, as it were, after its annulment following the judgment in the EU courts that the capacity market may not have been compliant with state aid rules, because the Commission had not sufficiently considered those state aid considerations when it first looked at the UK’s capacity market application before the market itself had come into being. The Commission produced a report and an agreement after that judgment and after the market had been annulled, which put the capacity market back into being, but on the basis of a number of undertakings that the UK Government had provided. One can reasonably infer that some of those undertakings were part of the reason why the Commission said that the capacity market could continue and that its construction was indeed not in contravention of state aid rules.

The UK suggested six measures for the capacity market, and they were appended to the Commission decision on 24 October 2019. In the explanatory notes to this statutory instrument, the Government refer to those amendments to the capacity market. They are amendments to demand-side response and to permission for access to the market for holders of store contracts and various other things, none of which are terribly controversial or indeed produce deleterious outcomes to the capacity market. Therefore, on balance I welcome them, particularly those on demand-side response, although I would say—this may be a redundant reflection—that if two of the changes to demand-side response had come into the capacity market earlier we might not have had the challenge to the EU courts in the first place. The challenge was based largely on demand-side response, and therefore the whole question of annulment would not have arisen. [Interruption.] The Minister says “Who knows?”, and we should perhaps not dwell on this for too long, other than to be slightly sorry that that is the case.

The explanatory notes state that this instrument implements the majority of the commitments recorded in the state aid decision, but it is quite a generous reading of what those commitments are and what this instrument does. Can the Secretary of State set out for us what commitments given at the time of that judgment are not included in the measures today, and if and when he intends to implement them in legislative changes to the capacity markets subsequent to this instrument? If he is not intending to do that or to implement those other things that have not been listed for implementation in today’s SI, why not?

I can help point the Minister to the nub of this question by reminding him of two of the commitments, the first of which is about including foreign capacity in pre-qualification to the capacity market. That is not the same as increasing the amount of interconnection coming through the system; it is about pre-qualifying generators that are not in the UK for bidding into the capacity market for capacity through the interconnectors, but not related to the actual size of the interconnection that goes into the UK itself. The second involves introducing a generation emissions ceiling on capacity both by kilowatt hour of electricity and by the average per year for installed kilowatt hours for contracting. I know the Minister has consulted on that particular change, but it does not appear before us today. I wonder why that is and whether the Minister intends to put forward separate legislation to bring that and other matters that are in those commitments concerning capacity markets on to the statute book, or whether the Minister intends to simply not carry out the commitments that were made at the time of the judgment.

If the Minister was able to enlighten me about those particular questions, then I am sure we would find it possible not to divide the House today on this statutory instrument, but rest ourselves content with the present state of the debate; that those questions had been answered and that the portal to the wider debate could then move forward from a successful statutory instrument today.

Break in Debate

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

15 Jun 2020, 12:02 a.m.

I think we are in agreement across the Chamber for once. Obviously the pumped aspect can use electricity when there is low demand, so electricity can be taken at a cheaper price and used to pump water up to fill the hydro, and then the hydro can be used when there is peak demand, so it works both sides of the equation.

Paragraph 8.1 of the explanatory memorandum references the European Union, but then is silent on the issue of leaving the EU, because it states:

“This instrument does not relate to withdrawal from the European Union”.

However, I would suggest that the operation of the capacity market does relate to withdrawal from Europe. Paragraph 7.1 confirms that capacity is also provided by “interconnection with other countries.” The right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) has given his view on that interconnection. The regulations do still relate to leaving the EU. Will the Minister tell us what the current position is? Once again, it looks as though there will be a possible no-deal crash-out on 31 December. How will the UK participate in the single energy market?

Today, I checked the UK Government guidance on trade and energy from 1 January 2021 onwards. It was last updated on 6 November 2019, but basically it puts all the onus on the energy operators. The Government advise:

“Although it is a matter for individual businesses to work out what steps they need to take, the government anticipates these may include…interconnector owners/operators will need to continue to work with their stakeholders and regulators to prepare alternative trading arrangements and updated rules…interconnector owners/operators will need to continue to engage with the relevant EU national regulators to understand their processes for the potential reassessment of their Transmission System Operator certifications.”

Given how important energy is for us and that interconnectors are an agreed integral part of the capacity market, why is the latest UK Government guidance still effectively saying that traders are left to their own devices looking ahead to this critical deadline of 31 December 31/1 January? What discussions has the Minister had with energy suppliers? Where are we on a free trade agreement for energy, looking forward?

It seems to me that the regulations are yet again part of a drip-feed approach to energy policy. This has been touched on by the shadow Minister, and the Minister alluded to the White Paper coming forward, but we need definitive timescales for when we are going to see the White Paper. It would be good to get a better feel for what the White Paper is going to be. Given that year delay, it would be nice to at least have a forewarning or an understanding of what is going to be in it.

We know that the economy has taken a massive hit because of coronavirus. Despite the title of the regulations, they only skim the effects of coronavirus. It has been rumoured that the White Paper will cover that, so it would be good if the Minister could say, “The White Paper will cover the effects of coronavirus and how we are going to re-stimulate the economy.” Hopefully, that will be with a green industrial revolution. I suggest that will need to include more onshore wind, more offshore wind and greater support for floating offshore. I have mentioned pumped hydro storage, hydrogen production and carbon capture, which are all vital strategies that we need the Government to get on with. I hope that we hear a bit about that and that the Minister can answer some of the questions I have raised. There is effectively nothing wrong with what has been brought forward, but it is just not enough; we want to see more.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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We have had a very wide-ranging debate—far more wide-ranging than any I can remember on secondary legislation. I suggest that many of these subjects would be better discussed in a fuller debate, of which we will have many ahead of legislation in the autumn. The White Paper I hope will come soon. I had not realised it was the first birthday of its putative publication, but I am sure that it will come soon, and we will witness many debates about energy policy.

Let me touch on a few things that hon. Members raised. I do not share the fear expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) about interconnectors. Going from 4% interconnector capacity to 9% is not indicative of an encroaching EU superstate or anything of that nature. Any Energy Minister who wanted to hit those net zero targets would be looking at interconnector infrastructure. He will know, as will my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay), that Germany does have a problem with coal, but the majority of our interconnector capacity comes from France, Ireland and Norway, which are actually doing very well in terms of clean power generation.

With respect to the remarks by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) about T-1 and suspension, it will not be 12 months de rigueur; it will be up to 12 months. Each and every exemption will be looked at on a singular, case-by-case basis. It is not true that year-long extensions will be given without regard to the circumstances. On emissions, I think we are going to have separate legislation—potentially secondary legislation—regulating or capping emissions, so again, I ask him to be forbearing and patient in respect to legislation regarding emissions.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) talked about the demerits of nuclear, about hydropower storage and about floating offshore wind, all of which are fascinating subjects but I am afraid are outside the limited scope of this statutory instrument on the capacity market. However, I would be very happy to engage him in debate about many of those fascinating and interesting opportunities and innovations in the energy sector.

The Government continue to believe that the capacity market is the right mechanism for delivering security of supply at the lowest—

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I happily give way.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

One point I raised that was specific to the regulations was about ensuring that we do not get more diesel generators bidding into the capacity market. I mentioned the reduction in the minimum threshold from 2 MW to 1 MW. Will the Minister address that point?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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Forgive me; the hon. Gentleman has raised some very specific points about our future energy policy, and I wish and hope that we can have a wider discussion on those specific points.

If I may reach a conclusion, these regulations are absolutely necessary to ensure the continued security of electricity supply. All our stakeholders in the market—the generators—say they want some security. The suspension of the market as a result of the judicial decision last year was very damaging and created a great deal of uncertainty. The SI deals with a lot of that uncertainty and is welcomed not only, I understand, by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test but across the sector.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I give way one more time.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

But will the Minister confirm that we can legislate now for 1 January next year and have the system we want? This is only a very temporary thing if the Government come up with a sensible policy.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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15 Jun 2020, midnight

It is of its nature temporary. As my right hon. Friend will know from his long experience in Parliament, the last time we had an energy Bill was in 2013. The Government may well wish to introduce another energy Bill but, whether that is the case or not, there will be ample opportunity after 1 January 2021 to debate the future of our energy system. All the issues raised with regard to flexibility will be relevant, and I am sure that he and others will engage fully and enthusiastically in that debate.

The regulations are necessary to ensure continued security of electricity supply. They will also ensure, obviously, that the capacity market continues to comply with its state aid approval, which was granted last October but does not necessarily bind us forever and a day. The regulations also provide support for capacity providers during the coronavirus epidemic.

On those two grounds of state aid and dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, I commend the draft regulations to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the draft Electricity Capacity (Amendment etc.) (Coronavirus) Regulations, which were laid before this House on 20 May, be approved.

Oral Answers to Questions

Kwasi Kwarteng Excerpts
Monday 4th May 2020

(6 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
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What discussions he has had with (a) the Federation of Small Businesses and (b) other representatives of small businesses on the Government's response to the covid-19 outbreak. [902143]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
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The Government are doing everything at their disposal to support businesses through the crisis and beyond. The Department is maintaining an ongoing dialogue with key stakeholders representing the country’s small businesses. The FSB regularly participates in the Business Secretary’s twice weekly call and regularly engages with my Department on a number of issues relating to covid-19.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The best way, probably, to help small business in rural areas such as Lincolnshire is to beef up broadband. That is for the long term, but does the Minister accept that, in the short term, the best way to help businesses is to let them do business, not subsidise them to close? I know we have to help vulnerable people, but it is not going to help the vulnerable in the long term if we crash the economy, so are the Government working full pelt, obviously consistent with proper social distancing, to get business back to work?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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My right hon. Friend is quite right: we want to focus on getting business back to work; but these lockdown measures were introduced to protect lives. Relaxing the measures too much would, we feel, risk damage to public health, our economy and all the sacrifices we have all made. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education said last week, it is incredibly important that we create environments that are safe in which to work and learn. We will adjust lockdown measures when the scientific advice indicates that it is safe to do so.

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris (Newbury) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to support businesses during the covid-19 outbreak. [902147]

Break in Debate

Rehman Chishti Portrait Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to support businesses during the covid-19 outbreak. [902154]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
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My Department is supporting businesses through the coronavirus business interruption loan schemes. In addition to those programmes, we are providing grants for small businesses linked to their business rate status, and we are scrapping business rates this year for those in the hospitality, retail and leisure sectors. We have also set up a package of support that will offer £1.25 billion for high-growth firms, and today we are launching a scheme providing bounce-back loans of up to £50,000 to small businesses.

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I represent a number of businesses in Newbury that specialise in renewable energy. A secondary effect of the pandemic has been a collapse in demand for fossil fuel. When the economy begins its recovery, what support will my right hon. Friend be able to give to clean energy suppliers, to ensure a greener and more resilient energy infrastructure?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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My hon. Friend is quite right. We are absolutely committed to net zero and will continue to support the development of clean energy. The fourth round of allocations for contracts for difference will take place next year, bringing forward new renewable electricity projects and creating further demand for the many businesses across the UK that supply them. The unprecedented package of support for businesses, which was mentioned earlier, will help ensure that businesses in the clean energy sector can contribute to driving economic recovery after this pandemic.

Marcus Fysh Portrait Mr Fysh [V]
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4 May 2020, 12:05 a.m.

Will the Government please give local authorities and local enterprise partnerships real-time access to sector-level information about the furloughs and redundancies, and back ambitious enterprise and incentive schemes for them to help businesses to recover and transform after the virus?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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4 May 2020, 11:14 a.m.

My hon. Friend raises a really important point: the flow of information is key to dealing with the crisis. I am happy to meet him to discuss the specifics of his constituency businesses, and I will raise access to specific data with my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn [V]
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4 May 2020, 11:14 a.m.

Several businesses in Carshalton and Wallington that were not eligible for the first round of grants have got in touch with me, such as those in shared offices and our lovely park cafés. Does the Minister agree that councils should make use of the discretionary fund announced over the weekend to help those businesses through the pandemic?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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4 May 2020, 12:04 a.m.

We have recognised that there are businesses, particularly in shared workspaces, with relatively high fixed costs related to rent payments, for example, and that they have not been able to benefit directly from the grants. I know that my hon. Friend has raised the issue with my Department; as a result of his lobbying, on Friday my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced additional funding to local authorities administering the two grant funds, which will help to support businesses that are currently out of scope. I strongly commend my hon. Friend’s input. Local authorities can now provide grants to small businesses in a variety of shared workspaces.

Rehman Chishti Portrait Rehman Chishti [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

4 May 2020, 12:05 a.m.

Local businesses in Gillingham and Rainham have asked me to ask the Minister to clarify what help is being given to those self-employed business owners and partners who earn over the £50,000 threshold. Some of those businesses cannot furlough any or some of their staff, and business interruption loans still need to be paid at a later date. Will the Minister clarify what support is available to those who fall into that category?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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First, I would like to clarify our current position: we have prioritised helping the greatest number of people as quickly as possible, and in order to target that support at those most in need, the Government have chosen to cap the self-employment income support scheme. Those who are not able to access the scheme may be able to access other wide-ranging measures that the Government are providing, which are designed to support businesses across all sectors during these difficult times. I am very happy for my hon. Friend to engage with the Department and me on the issue.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on providing financial support for workers ineligible for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. [902139]

Cavity Wall Insulation: Complaints

Kwasi Kwarteng Excerpts
Monday 16th March 2020

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore
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16 Mar 2020, 10:23 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which could form part of a wider review that the Government could instigate to secure redress for the many people who have been impacted.

I shall continue—this is obviously a popular Adjournment debate. Here is where the real injustice lies. Whenever this issue is raised in the House, Members and their constituents are signposted to the supposed forms of redress. First, they are told to lodge a complaint with the firm that undertook the works. That is where many of them hit their first brick wall, because many of the firms that completed such works have either gone into liquidation, have been folded into other companies, or simply no longer exist. Many people are then told to fall back on the guarantees issued through the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency—or CIGA, as many people refer to it. For the majority of people I have spoken to, CIGA often represents the biggest brick wall of them all, because what that industry-funded body appears to provide in far too many cases is protection in name only. I am sure that Members across the House have been approached by constituents who have sought an assessment from CIGA, only to be presented with various get-out clauses that prevent any kind of redress payment from being issued.

CIGA rightly says that it offers a guarantee scheme rather than a compensation scheme. CIGA guarantees were offered on a 25-year basis, but now that it has become clear that CIGA had no suitable system in place to quality-assure installers, any guarantee that was given is self-evidently weakened. Quite simply, how can a product—in this case, cavity wall insulation—be guaranteed if the guarantor had no way of knowing whether the product was installed properly in the first place?

When we delve deeper, the opportunities for redress seem to weaken yet further. Significantly, one key clause in CIGA guarantees is referred to when responding to complaints: the maintenance clause. That, I would argue, is CIGA’s trump card for inaction. The difficulty that people face in attributing damp to a single cause often allows CIGA to suggest that the cavity wall insulation may not have been the key determining factor. The bottom line is often that the damp could have come from elsewhere. I am not a surveyor, and I appreciate that it may well be difficult to determine the cause of damp in a property, sometimes many years after the cavity wall insulation was originally fitted. That is a point of contention about which too many constituents have now contacted me. My willingness to support that form of defence is weakened when I hear real-life examples of people living with this problem. Indeed, one constituent who contacted me was living in a property that had been fitted with cavity wall insulation before she moved into the address, and she had located two different copies of her CIGA guarantee. One of those copies contained the maintenance clause; the other, older copy did not.

That leads me to believe that over time CIGA has taken note of the significant problems that people are facing and, instead of offering the support it was set up to provide, is instead hiding behind a clause against which it is difficult to argue. That is why I believe that the many people to whom I have spoken about CIGA often come back to me with the same response: it is under-resourced and not fit for purpose.

Then people are pointed to alternative dispute resolution, or independent arbitration. Several constituents have expressed significant concerns about how independent that process is, and many are reluctant to go down that lengthy route as, once a decision is made, it is legally binding and cannot be challenged, apart from in the High Court. The process is also expensive. It costs £130, and the complainant must pay for an independent surveyor’s report, so costs can stack up to £500. It can become, in essence, a one-way ticket to nowhere.

More recently, I was contacted by a constituent, Gavin Ward, who had cavity wall insulation fitted in April 2011. Gavin is in the Public Gallery this evening, so I would like to thank him for coming along today. Gavin owns his property and had lived there since 2001. Gavin maintains that prior to having the insulation fitted in 2011, there were no issues with damp in his property. He was door-stepped by Miller Pattison, which was installing cavity wall insulation locally, and was encouraged to have some fitted. Because he was in receipt of working tax credits the work was undertaken free of charge, with the install being funded by an energy company. Miller Pattison subsequently conducted a pre-installation survey, which proved that the property was free from damp and apparently suitable for the installation to take place. Luckily for Gavin, he retained a copy of the survey.

The installation took place and Gavin thought all was well. He sat back and waited for the insulation to start reducing his energy bills, but in the following months and years the forecast reductions in energy bills did not transpire. In fact, his bills kept increasing and he found it increasingly difficult to keep heat within his home. During this period, Gavin’s young son frequently suffered from recurring ear infections, his wife became more susceptible to asthma attacks, and Gavin himself suffered from chest infections each winter—something he not fallen foul of previously.

Some five years after the cavity insulation was installed, Gavin noticed some damp appearing. Then the electrics tripped out. Subsequently, Gavin found that one of the walls behind a piece of furniture was soaking wet, with what he describes as a pool of water inside the electrical box fixed to the wall. Gavin had an independent chartered surveyor undertake an assessment of his property, which indicated that the major damp issues now in his property had been caused by the cavity wall insulation. The damp problems increased yet further, and Gavin was informed that it was because the walls had now reached their saturation point, causing inevitable damp, mould, and spores.

Gavin has had a lengthy litigation battle, lasting three years, between his solicitor and the installers’ solicitor via a no win, no fee funding arrangement. During this period the property has deteriorated significantly, with no offer made even to remove the failed product from within the wall cavity. During the process he has made some startling discoveries. First, it has become clear that Miller Pattison’s initial pre-installation assessment was totally ineffective. Since the start of Gavin’s attempt to take legal action against Miller Pattison, many of the company’s assets have been folded into a new firm, Novora Building Services Ltd, which apparently is run by the same three directors, using all the same staff and assets; and Miller Pattison has gone into administration, removing the potential for legal redress.

It is clear that Miller Pattison is not an insignificant player in this: the company’s administrators have told Gavin that EDF Energy has made a claim against the company for faulty insulation work. Miller Pattison has previously disclosed that it applied for 800,000 CIGA guarantees, and commonly received a startling 40 to 50 complaints per month. The events I have described are all the more suspicious when we consider that—I have been informed—Miller Pattison’s managing director, Mike Dyson, was on the board of CIGA when the decision was made to grant the new firm, Novora Building Services Ltd, registered status. That means that Novora Building Services Ltd is now being used by CIGA to undertake remedial works in properties where similar problems to Gavin’s have occurred. Given that many of Novora’s assets were transferred from the defunct Miller Pattison, in effect the company responsible for the shoddy works is now being paid to correct some of its own mistakes.

CIGA’s clients do not get a say in who undertakes their remedial works once they have successfully settled a complaint. The remedial work is not guaranteed and other victims are now facing problems from the poor remedial work—work that is, in effect, done by the same company. Frankly, the situation stinks. I am reliably informed that Mike Dyson stepped away from CIGA in January this year to concentrate on his new company. How convenient.

Gavin has now taken this issue to Action Fraud, and it clearly needs to be investigated as a matter of urgency. This phoenixing of one company into another clearly needs checking out, because many of these phoenixed companies have changed from being cavity wall insulation fitters to cavity wall insulation extraction companies. CIGA has finally agreed to pay out on Gavin’s property, but only for the removal of the insulation, which CIGA now agrees should not have been installed due to debris in the cavity that was not identified in the pre-install survey. Currently, no one is overseeing how many extractions are taking place, hiding the scale of the problem further. Why is there no register? Extraction will cost only a few thousand pounds, paid directly to the installer, but that pales into insignificance given that the true cost of the repair work has risen from £45,000 to in excess of £63,000. CIGA will not agree to do any of the remedial work because, it says, the homeowner has not maintained the property.

CIGA often seem to get away with extracting material from one wall only or doing a “top up”, which is where some of the cavity’s voids are filled in. Those options are cheap and a route to disaster for the homeowner. Gavin and his family have now been forced to move out of his property, as it is uninhabitable, but Gavin’s case is just one example of many across the country where people have had to fight tooth and nail to get even a percentage of the compensation they deserve. We have seen: companies folding into other companies; and people with clear conflicts of interest sitting on the board of the supposedly independent guarantor. I am sure Members will agree that this illustrates just a small number of the hurdles people have to jump through to get the answers and compensation many of them deserve. Many other victims have not been able to sustain such a lengthy battle, and have lost their homes and health to the cavity wall insulation scandal. Pauline Saunders, who has spearheaded the Cavity Insulation Victims Alliance—CIVALLI—for many years now, has worked closely with Gavin and many other victims of this injustice. Pauline and her team at CIVALLI have helped thousands of people seek redress, and have kept the pressure on the Government in the process. I really commend her for her work on this.

I have gone through the nuts and bolts of the issue, and I want to explain why I believe it has become a real issue of inequality. Let us consider who many of these schemes are widely offered to: people on working tax credits; people on disability benefit; and people on other qualifying forms of welfare. The truth is that many of the people facing high repair costs to their properties are those who can least afford it, which is why it is vital that the UK Government step in and help to resolve this mess, once and for all.

So, today, I want to ask several key things of the Minister, which I hope he will properly consider in the spirit in which they are meant. Will he initiate an independent inquiry into the way cavity wall insulation complaints have been handled, to determine the scale of the problem and find resolution for people who have been left high and dry? Will he allocate more resources to CIGA to enable it to properly compensate guarantee holders where there is a clear need to do so? CIGA has only £18 million of assets, which is grossly inadequate. Failing that, will he set up a new, separate and properly independent body to deal with complaints about cavity wall insulation, with funding to compensate people where clear injustices can be found? Will he meet Action Fraud to ensure that it has all the resources it needs to properly investigate companies such as Miller Pattison? Will he work with the Welsh Government to ensure that any such measures are made as accessible as possible to people across Wales, as well as across the rest of the UK? Will he comment on the Each Home Counts review and whether all of its recommendations have been taken forward and have started to improve the situation for future consumers? Will he determine how many companies have undertaken cavity wall insulation works under Government schemes that no longer exist and suggest how this problem can be addressed?

I appreciate that much of the detail of what I have gone through today is quite dense, but that just shows what a rough time people in my constituency and across the UK have been having. They have been left, largely on their own, to navigate this increasingly complex situation, and all because they thought they were doing the right thing. This is not about adding to the “claim culture”, which becomes rife in too many parts of our economy; it is about giving people such as Gavin and his family proper access to redress mechanisms when there is clear evidence that they have been wronged. Many people have said that this issue has the potential to be as big as the payment protection insurance scandal. I agree, except that we now need a proper mechanism to be put in place to allow the victims of this scandal to be compensated, as the victims were with PPI. I thank the Minister for listening to the concerns I have raised today, and I hope to continue to work with him on this issue in a constructive manner.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Hansard - -

16 Mar 2020, 10:23 p.m.

I thought that was an informed and well-researched speech, so I thank the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) for it and congratulate him on securing this important debate. I found one phrase in his speech particularly engaging, as it sums up what we are doing in this House, and that was when he referred to “proper access to redress”. That is a universal theme in this place. All constituency MPs feel that we want to give our constituents proper access to redress, and it was a very fair observation.

The Government acknowledge the charge that some companies have installed CWI in homes that were unsuitable for those measures and that they have done so using poor building practices. We also acknowledge that some of these companies have, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, gone into liquidation, which has meant that they have avoided any redress to former customers. But it is precisely for those reasons that from 1 January this year we introduced new design and installation standards into our main domestic energy-efficiency policy, the energy company obligation. I will talk a bit more about that in a moment.

Let me give some background. Cavity wall insulation has in the past been delivered through several Government schemes, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned in passing. ECO is the most effective at protecting consumers. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that some of the schemes did not work, which is why we are having this debate. The current iteration of the scheme, ECO3, is worth £640 million a year and will run until March 2022. Since it commenced in its first iteration in 2013, ECO has delivered nearly 2.7 million heating and insulation measures in more than 2 million households, including the installation of boilers, electric storage heaters and wall insulation.

I know that the hon. Gentleman said that he is not against cavity wall insulation but wants to raise the issue of the egregious and unacceptable cowboy companies that are exploiting vulnerable people, but I have to say that more than 8% of the homes in his constituency have received measures under the scheme and, as far as I understand it, the vast majority of them have worked out in a beneficial way. The current focus of ECO is on fuel poverty. It reduces the heating bills of those households that are least able to insulate and heat their homes. The hon. Gentleman made the point that many of the people who were exposed to these sharp practices were the most vulnerable people in our society. The ECO scheme is directly focused on that population.

In Great Britain, cavity wall insulation is present in around 70% of the homes for which it is appropriate. It reduces energy bills and saves carbon. However, I fully accept that the insulation work carried out under the predecessors of the ECO scheme did not meet the standards that are now required—I am afraid most cavity wall insulation was installed under those schemes —which is why, from the start of ECO in 2013, the Government made clear guarantees and specific installation standards a requirement, to improve consumer protection. In addition, to monitor compliance, some 5% of all the measures taken are independently checked and the result is reported to the administrator, which is Ofgem. Installers of cavity wall insulation also now have to provide a 25-year guarantee for the measures that they install.

Nevertheless, we know that standards and consumer protection can improve. The hon. Gentleman mentioned an independent review; we are implementing the recommendations of the comprehensive and independent Each Home Counts review of quality and standards. As I have mentioned, from 1 January this year all installers that work under ECO have to be registered with TrustMark, which is the new Government-endorsed quality framework for energy efficiency. Compliance with TrustMark leads to improved and comprehensive consumer protection, and that includes a clear route to the redress that the hon. Gentleman talked about for his constituents. We now have updated design and we have installation standards, so the picture today is far better than the one that he described.

I fully understand and appreciate that we have had historical problems. We have consistently tried to improve standards, but we are aware that some historical installations of CWI have led to significant problems. Those problems have been seized upon by some companies that are, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, part of the evolving claims culture. There are instances of claims management companies having contacted householders directly to report that they may be able to get compensation for failed cavity wall insulation. I am not saying that this is the case in the majority of instances to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but it has been reported that householders have been led to believe that their insulation is deficient when it is working perfectly reasonably.

The Government have recently published additional guidance for consumers who suspect that they may have had faulty cavity wall insulation installed in their homes. This published guidance is useful for some people who feel that they may have been led astray. My Department is consistently working with the ECO administrator, Ofgem, the Treasury, the Insurance Fraud Bureau and the Financial Conduct Authority to explore further options for addressing this issue across the sector.

I do not know the details that the hon. Gentleman very ably set out in his speech. The first that I heard of many of them was today; I read the article that he had written and I was aware of some of the difficulties. What I would say in the spirit of candour that he adopted when he opened his remarks is that I am very happy to meet him and to discuss some of the more specific cases with which he is very familiar and with which, regrettably, I am less familiar. None the less, I do know the policy and the various schemes under which many of his constituents might have sought or had this insulation installed.

Broadly, cavity wall insulation remains one of the most cost-effective measures delivered under the ECO scheme, and we are absolutely committed to making sure that a measure of confidence in ECO and CWI continues. To reduce the chances of poor insulation, the Department continues to engage with suppliers, the industry and also with TrustMark, to ensure that continuous improvement in standards. My officials also work closely with the main provider of guarantees, the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency, which, when I have spoken to its representatives, has embraced the move to more rigorous standards.

It is not the place for me, as a Minister at the Dispatch Box, to comment on those specific charges about individuals. That is not what I would be expected to do. What I would be happy to do is to talk more in a private situation—one on one—so that he can explain the particular faults and irregularities in CIGA as they transpired to him.

Wayne David Portrait Wayne David
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16 Mar 2020, 10:31 p.m.

But there are many.