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)|
(1 week ago)Westminster Hall
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
(1 week, 2 days ago)Westminster Hall
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.
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.
That this House has considered support for SMEs and the net zero target.
(2 weeks, 2 days ago)Commons Chamber
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?
What plans he has to help ensure adequate Government scrutiny of the Sizewell C nuclear power station development consent order application. 
Break in Debate
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?
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?
Break in Debate
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?
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?
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?
Break in Debate
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? 
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? 
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? 
Break in Debate
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? 
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? 
Break in Debate
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? 
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? 
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? 
(3 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
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.
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?
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.
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.
(1 month, 1 week ago)Commons Chamber
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.
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?
(1 month, 1 week ago)Commons Chamber
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?
(1 month, 4 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
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?
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?
Break in Debate
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?
Break in Debate
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?
Break in Debate
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? 
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
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? 
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? 
Break in Debate
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? 
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? 
(1 month, 4 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
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.
(4 months, 1 week ago)Commons Chamber
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
Break in Debate
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? 
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
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? 
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? 
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? 
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. 
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? 
Break in Debate
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? 
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? 
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? 
(4 months, 3 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
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?
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?
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).
(5 months, 1 week ago)Commons Chamber
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.
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?
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?
Break in Debate
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? 
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? 
Break in Debate
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? 
Break in Debate
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? 
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? 
(5 months, 2 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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
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.
(6 months, 3 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
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?
Break in Debate
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?
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?
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?
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?
(8 months, 2 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
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.