6.44 pm

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Chris Huhne): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I begin by thanking the many hon. Members who have contributed so much to the discussions on the Bill. The hon. Members for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), for Blaydon (Mr Anderson), for Hyndburn (Graham Jones), for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) and for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), who is my constituency neighbour, put a lot of work into the Bill during its lengthy consideration in Committee. I extend my thanks to the hon. Member for Bolton North East (Mr Crausby) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) for chairing the Bill Committee, and to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who worked tirelessly and made a substantial contribution to the debate, for which I am extremely grateful.

On the Government Benches, I should like to extend my gratitude to the hon. Members for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), for Stourbridge (Margot James), for Devizes (Claire Perry), for Winchester (Mr Brine), and for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), and to my hon. Friends the Members for Norwich South (Simon Wright) and for Wells (Tessa Munt), for the dedication that they have shown in scrutinising the Bill in its passage through the House. I also thank my officials, who have worked extremely hard to develop the Bill and who helped Members with their inquiries.

The centrepiece of the Bill is the green deal, an innovative finance mechanism to release capital for energy efficiency. The green deal is the first measure of its kind anywhere in the world, and it allows a payback to investors over long periods beyond the normal tenancy or period of owner-occupation, so that householders do not have to pay any of the cost up front, and much more energy saving becomes affordable. It creates a new market in energy saving that will cut energy bills, ensure against future price rises, provide local jobs, boost green businesses and improve our nation’s energy security. We have worked hard to allow hon. Members to scrutinise the provisions in detail, and I believe that the proposal has been strengthened.

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Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does the Secretary of State accept that wind farms have generated serious concerns all over the country? Does he accept, too, regarding his proposition on the value of the Bill, that the consumer tariff in fact pays significantly for the destruction of the countryside?

Chris Huhne: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The bulk of the Bill is about energy efficiency and energy saving, which means that we will need fewer types of electricity generation of all descriptions, including windmills. I disagree with him, as I think that windmills are beautiful and we should have a lot more of them. They provide the most economical form of renewable energy, and I trust that he will come up with ideas for many more windmills in and around his constituency.

There are provisions in the Bill for a new energy company obligation, or ECO, which is critical for delivering carbon savings in homes that are hard to treat. It will protect the most vulnerable groups and those on the lowest incomes, focusing on households that cannot afford to heat their homes adequately. The provisions relating to the private rental sector are a significant step forward. They are designed to increase efficiency to protect tenants in some of the worst housing and to boost overall carbon savings.

The Bill contains a number of provisions relating to energy markets and infrastructure. It ensures that I will have sufficient information to publish an assessment of future electricity capacity requirements, and that I have a duty to do so. That sits alongside the much more significant package of reforms covered in the electricity market reform White Paper. To improve security of supply, the Bill contains powers that, if taken, will give incentives to gas providers to continue to supply their customers, should Britain suffer its first gas supply emergency. Through this Bill, we will be able to de-designate areas of our continental shelf—a small but important amendment to the existing legal situation. Should negotiations between industry players over access to infrastructure in the North sea break down, the Bill gives us the ability to intervene and work to find a resolution, so that our energy security will not suffer.

The Bill contains powers to ensure that the interests of consumers are paramount. For example, we have taken powers to oblige suppliers to specify whether a cheaper tariff is available.

Mr Baron: On that issue, may I congratulate the Secretary of State and the Government on accepting the recommendations of the billing stakeholder group and, indeed, the need for a letter, where appropriate, provided that it is supported by a campaign by Which? and others, to make consumers aware of the cheapest tariffs? However, does he share my view, and that of the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), that Ofgem should publish its findings from the consultation on the retail market review before Christmas this year?

Chris Huhne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. The ministerial team is pressing Ofgem to move further and faster as quickly as possible on all of this, and I very much hope that it will be able to come forward with conclusions before Christmas. Clearly we

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are then getting into the period before the highest energy bills, and it is important that consumers should have access to that information and to those potential safeguards. I will certainly be pressing Ofgem to do that.

These measures are accompanied by a number of minor yet vital provisions in the Bill that we need to make to secure our supply of low-carbon energy, and I am grateful to the House and to Members in the other place for taking the time to scrutinise and contribute to the Bill. It has a substantial measure of support across the House, despite the differences that we have had. I certainly pay tribute to Opposition Members. This is one of those cases where success has many parents and, as we all know, failure is an orphan. I hope that bodes well for the success of the Bill when it comes to improving dramatically our energy efficiency.

We have here the keys that will unlock the door that stands in the way of an energy efficient and energy secure Britain, and I commend the Bill to the House.

6.51 pm

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): At last we are here at the Third Reading of a Bill that has dropped off the parliamentary agenda more often than Humpty Dumpty. In Committee, the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) clearly set out his ambitions for the Bill. He described the green deal as

“the centrepiece of…the coalition’s ambitious plan for energy efficiency.”

He went on to describe it as

“a new paradigm…the biggest home improvement project since the second world war.”––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 7 June 2011; c. 4-5.]

In reality, it is a bit of a disappointment; not as broken as Humpty Dumpty, but in parts as divorced from reality as a nursery rhyme. Much was promised, but little was delivered.

The delays are serious, because they mean that the green deal will fail to be delivered by October next year as planned. But we should not be surprised, because since the Secretary of State was appointed we have seen promises delayed and initiatives re-announced so often that we have lost count. Even after intense parliamentary scrutiny here and in the other place, it is still a weak Bill, which I fear will not deliver what it promises. We want the Bill to achieve its aims, but wanting is not enough. The green deal needs to work, and the Government need to now work very hard on that delivery. But the Government are swamping providers in red tape, customers in confusion and energy companies with responsibilities that many are reluctant to undertake. We should not be surprised because the Government have form on this issue in delay, dither and confusion generally on the green policy agenda.

There was so much promise. The greenest Government ever was the Prime Minister’s pledge. That is the same Prime Minister who has not mentioned green issues at all since the election. In opposition, he criticised energy Bills but now sits on his hands and does nothing. The Secretary of State needs to take responsibility. He has less influence over his Department than the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is not just the Chancellor who we

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know has influence. We knew trouble was afoot when the Prime Minister appointed a new energy adviser, and as he arrived at No. 10, dripping with oil, the death knell of the Government’s green credentials were sounded. We know this from a recently leaked memo, originally circulated to a select group of 12 trusted advisers and leaked by one of them to


Daily Telegraph.

This shows the unease within the Conservative party ranks about the Secretary of State’s performance. The memorandum from the Prime Minister’s own energy adviser suggested that the Department’s projections were unconvincing, so not exactly a ringing endorsement for the green deal from within the Government.

One of the real scandals of the Government’s approach against a backcloth of rising prices for gas and electricity is how they are turning their back on consumers. As the temperature drops, millions will start to see their energy prices spiral out of their reach, and the green deal will not deliver this winter or even next. Those in private rented housing will have to wait until 2016, or even 2018, to see those improvements. So people will face the terrible choice between staying warm and running up debts, and turning off the heating despite plummeting temperatures. Those on pre-payment schemes will see their money run out sooner and the gas go off. Hundred of thousands will slip into fuel poverty, spending more than 10% of their household income on keeping their home at an adequate temperature. The Secretary of State cannot even persuade members of his own Government. Recent polling shows that energy prices are a top concern for the public. Within months there could be a full-scale crisis.

Caroline Lucas: I am no apologist for this Government, but I must observe that in Labour’s 13 years in government CO2 emissions went up, not down. Does that not look a little hypocritical of the hon. Lady?

Meg Hillier: We all share the mission of reducing carbon emissions, and we have all supported the Government in signing up to the fourth carbon budget, but the proof of the pudding will be in whether they can actually deliver. My sad worry is that the Bill will not deliver the home efficiency improvements it sets out. We want it to succeed, but it is a wishy-washy Bill that I fear will not meet the Secretary of State’s aims. It needs further improvement. It has no strategy or plan for delivery, and there are so many unanswered questions about practical delivery, even after being debated in both Houses.

The Secretary of State has staked his reputation on this market-driven home energy efficiency model. His claim that it will transform the energy efficiency of our homes, which represent 27% of emissions nationally, and create green jobs up and down the country is melting away, as publicly and privately the expected players are very critical of it. I re-emphasise that the Opposition strongly support the aim. The original thinking behind it came from my Government when we were in power. The need to tackle domestic emissions is unarguable, and we fully support the direction of travel. It is just a crying shame that the Secretary of State, with all Whitehall’s talent at his disposal, has managed to deliver a wet dishcloth of a Bill.

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As five of the big six energy companies hiked their prices over the summer, it was clear that the vast majority of bill payers will face real pressure this winter. The Secretary of State’s proposal was that customers should shop around for the best deal, but with companies’ prices rising in line with one another, that suggestion rings hollow. The Government have abolished Warm Front before any replacement scheme has been introduced, and the new energy company obligation ushered in by the Bill leaves many questions unanswered. We pass the Bill tonight with that detail still to come.

The reality is that the Secretary of State, as a Lib Dem in a Conservative Government, and distracted by other matters, now lacks the focus to get even this flagship Bill delivered in time. We still have more than 50 pieces of secondary legislation to pass, so the timetable is in serious doubt. I do not doubt his commitment to this, but the reality is that the Government as a whole are not serious about their green agenda. With friends like that in No. 10, we can have little hope that the real opportunities for growth and jobs in greening our energy supplies and helping those who are shivering under blankets will be met by the Government.

Chris Huhne: May I point out to the hon. Lady that the Government have increased the funding for vulnerable groups in fuel poverty by two thirds, compared with the Government she supported? What is her response to that?

Meg Hillier: We will wait to see whether the energy company obligation will truly deliver, because we have real doubts about it. We are yet to see the detail, and the devil will be in that detail. There are 50 pieces of secondary legislation that will flesh out that and other elements of the Bill. We will continue to work on and with the Government, as appropriate and where possible, to put flesh on this skeletal Bill, as well as on fuel poverty and affordability, on climate change and across the board in this area. If the Government fail, they will fail this generation of families this winter and every winter. They will fail future generations who will not forgive them for mistaking rhetoric and ambition for action and outcomes.

6.59 pm

Graham Jones: In these final 15 seconds, I should like to say that there are real concerns in the Bill for the poor people of this country. There is the potential for high interest rates on the loans; the pre-payment meters issue has still not been resolved; and the energy company obligation is a regressive tax, because the energy consumption differential between rich and poor will not be that great, and it is going to hit low-wage households.

On the ability to pay, we have the issue of the ECO in hard-to-treat homes, and people who are on low wages but who have the ability to pay may be excluded, so the Government have real issues to sort out there. The Bill is not clear about doorstep mis-selling, whereby vulnerable people could be taken advantage of, so the Government need to tighten up on that, and the whole private landlords issue has just been a sop to the landlords, not to the tenants. That is a real problem, because a child now aged one might be 8 years old before they get the opportunity to benefit from the green deal and from insulation, and that is of great concern. I rest my 15 seconds there.

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6.59 pm

Caroline Lucas: I support the Government’s intention in this Bill, but—

7 pm

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, 10 May)

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the Bill be now read a Third time.

Question agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.

Business without Debate

Delegated legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Financial Services and Markets

That the draft Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Carrying on Regulated Activities by Way of Business) (Amendment) Order 2011, which was laid before this House on 4 July, be approved.—(Mr Francois.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Weights and Measures

That the draft Weights and Measures (Specified Quantities) (Unwrapped Bread and Intoxicating Liquor) Order 2011, which was laid before this House on 5 July, be approved.—(Mr Francois.)

Question agreed to.

draft financial services bill (joint committee)


That this House concurs with the Lords Message of 13 September that, notwithstanding the Resolution of this House of 18 July, it be an instruction to the Joint Committee on the Financial Services Bill that it should report on the draft Bill by 16 December. (Mr Francois.)

delegated legislation

Motion made,

That the motions in the name of Sir George Young relating to the Electoral Commission and the Local Government Boundary Commission for England shall be treated as if they related to instruments subject to the provisions of Standing Order No. 118 (Delegated Legislation Committees) in respect of which notice has been given that the instruments be approved.—(Mr Francois.)

Hon. Members: Object.

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Dartford Crossing Tolls

7.1 pm

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): With your leave, Mr Deputy Speaker, I should like to present this petition, which is supported by almost 2,000 readers of the Dartford Messenger newspaper and by myself. It states:

The Petition of residents of Dartford and readers of the Dartford Messenger newspaper,

Declares that the Petitioners are opposed to any increase in tolls charged for the Dartford Crossing.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Department for Transport not to increase tolls on the Dartford Crossing and to reconsider the emergency measures to lift the barriers during severe congestion and extend the local residents discount scheme.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


Great Harwood Household Waste Recycling Centre (Lancashire)

7.2 pm

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): I should like to present this petition, on behalf of the residents of Great Harwood in Lancashire and of surrounding areas, to save the recycling centre in said town. A petition in similar terms, asking for the same action, has been signed by a number of my constituents. Great Harwood Community Action Group has gathered a petition of some 1,500 signatures; 3,000 signatures against the closure were gathered at the recycling centre prior to that; about 600 protest letters have been sent to the county council; and I personally received 84 letters of objection to the closure at the beginning of the process.

The petition states:

The Petition of residents of Great Harwood, Lancashire and others,

Declares that following Lancashire County Council's budget review and report into household waste recycling centres, there are now plans to close further recycling centres across the county; that it has been announced that Great Harwood is one of the sites that has been identified to close; and that the Petitioners believe that this will inevitably decrease recycling and increase fly-tipping in Great Harwood and the surrounding areas of Lancashire

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to write to Lancashire County Council to ask them to reconsider the proposal to shut the Great Harwood Household Waste Recycling Centre and to keep it open, as it is a vital service to the town and surrounding areas.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


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Fuel Poverty

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Syms.)

7.4 pm

John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): I am delighted to have secured this debate. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments on the wider issues that I shall raise.

First, let me set out the current state of fuel poverty in Scotland. Fuel poverty afflicts a cross-section of society. It is determined by the percentage of one’s income that is spent on energy bills: to be exact, when a household spends more than 10% per cent of its income on gas and electricity, it is deemed to be in fuel poverty. One third of Scottish households live in fuel poverty. The Scottish Government believe that, after recent energy price rises more than 900,000 Scottish households will be living in fuel poverty. I fear that we are on the edge of a fuel poverty crisis and that in the coming years that figure will reach the 1 million mark in Scotland alone.

Colder winters in the rest of the UK have not stopped the Scottish National party Administration in Edinburgh cutting the fuel poverty budget by a third, and aided by what the Tory-led Government are doing, the poor and needy are set to suffer even more in the years to come. In constituencies such as mine, as well as others, fuel poverty relates predominantly, although not exclusively, to pensioner poverty; however, many who are not pensioners —people with severe disabilities, single parents and the unemployed, to name but a few—are also in fuel poverty.

My home city of Glasgow is fairly youthful compared with other cities in Scotland, but there is a large elderly population. Among those of pensionable age, there are large pockets of severe pensioner poverty, to which my constituency is sadly not an exception and from which it suffers more than most. When I was elected to Parliament in November 2000, 80% of single pensioner households in Scotland lived on an annual income of £15,000 or less. Today that figure is 60%—admittedly less than in 2000, but still unacceptable. With 13,500 pensioner households in my constituency alone—one of the highest concentrations of pensioners in Europe—hon. Members will understand why this issue is of grave importance to me as a local MP and why I am raising it today. About 6,500 people are claiming pension credit in my constituency, which is consistently ranked 7th out of all Scottish parliamentary constituencies in that respect. My constituency has the highest proportion of single women pensioners in the entire country, and according to official figures their number will continue to rise, with over two thirds of women over 85 in Scotland projected to live alone by 2033. Glasgow North West is fast becoming—sadly for me—like the name of a recent film, “No Country for Old Men”.

Because 65% of single pensioner households and about half of smaller pensioner households in Scotland were classified as fuel poor in 2009, according to official figures, making them more likely than any other type of household to be experiencing fuel poverty, my constituency casework, as hon. Members can imagine, is dominated by the issue—and rightly so. According to Scottish Government figures, almost a quarter of single pensioner households and a fifth of smaller pensioner households in Scotland are deemed to be in extreme fuel poverty, whereby they spend more than 20% of their disposable

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income on heating their home. In addition, 8% of pensioners in Scotland live in absolute poverty and one in 10 over-65s are classed as “materially deprived”. Although Scotland is one of the worst affected areas in the UK, many inner-city and rural areas elsewhere have the same severe fuel poverty status. Hon. Members will understand why I believe we are on the verge of a fuel poverty crisis.

What causes fuel poverty? To put it simply, it has three root causes: low incomes, poor housing and high energy prices. Eradicating fuel poverty will involve tackling these three problems. Improving the quality of housing stock is of paramount importance. Although big strides were taken under the previous Government through the decent homes standard, the Warm Front programme and the energy efficiency commitment to improve energy efficiency and install cost-effective heating systems in homes, more has to be done. In Scotland between 2008 and 2010, new housing supply decreased by 16%, house building decreased by 17% and public sector housing provision fell by 1%. I would like to blame the current Government for those things, but unfortunately they were not in power. In 2009, according to Scottish Government figures, new-build housing completions were at their lowest level since 1982, meaning that fewer modern, properly insulated homes are being built. In addition, people living in private sector housing in Scotland are twice as likely as those in social housing to experience extreme fuel poverty. More than a third of pensioners live in housing that is poorly insulated or reliant on expensive heating.

Housing is a devolved matter, however. In this speech, I will focus mainly on areas where the Government potentially have a direct influence. Although I will use Scotland and my constituency as examples, colleagues tell me that the situation is just as bad in many other areas of the UK. I have had to apologise to a number of Members who asked to intervene, because I would have needed hours of extra time to have a proper debate and allow them the time that they so richly deserve.

I hope that the Chancellor and the Government will focus more on the vital role of the tax and benefit system in raising the incomes of the needy. I am sure that the Minister knows that benefit entitlement checks can help to ensure that vulnerable customers are getting their fair share of the millions of pounds of unclaimed benefits. Sadly, the many inches of newsprint about the £1.5 billion-worth of benefit fraud outweigh the coverage given to unclaimed benefits. Do not get me wrong, fraud of any kind should be sought out and punished as it is the poorest who always suffer as a result, but little recognition has been given to the fact that up to £5 billion of means-tested benefits that should go to older people in the United Kingdom are unclaimed each year. I wish that the Government would apply the same gusto to chasing up the pensioners who need that money as they give to those who defraud the welfare system.

I could not discuss fuel poverty without mentioning winter fuel payments. I know that the Conservatives were latecomers to supporting winter fuel payments. I remember the Foreign Secretary, when he was leader of his party, saying that such payments were a gimmick, and I am glad that the Conservatives have now publicly declared their support for them. However, the Chancellor’s decision to cut winter fuel payments to the poorest

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pensioners by £100 seems a cynical and short-sighted decision in the current economic climate, with incomes falling and energy prices rising.

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. I am sure that he was in the Chamber for Scotland questions earlier today, where the figures for Glasgow were given: 100,000 pensioners face cuts to their winter fuel allowance this year, totalling £4 million, at the same time as their energy bills are rising by up to 20%. Does he share my concern that, sadly, too many pensioners in the UK will have to choose between heating their home and putting food on the table?

John Robertson: My hon. Friend and neighbour makes a very good point. I know that the Minister will say that the Government are not cutting winter fuel payments, but maintaining the level that the Labour party set in government. The fact is that each time the Labour party increased the payments because of the weather, it consolidated them the next year. Had Labour won the election, we would have expected the Government to consolidate the money given last time. That is why I feel that this Government should consolidate that money, particularly at a time when energy prices are rising and when poor people—particularly the elderly—who need the money the most will suffer the most. It is a fact that those who receive the winter fuel allowance will receive less this year than last year. The Labour Government did not do that; the Conservative Government did. They had their opportunity to consolidate the payments, but instead used them as another attack on the poor.

Energy is a major cost to everybody, but especially to people who fall into the trap of fuel poverty. Energy companies constantly remind us of increases in the wholesale costs of oil and gas and increased demand, and add that they are required to invest in modernising their industry to keep climate change commitments; they remind us less often of the Government subsidies that they get to invest in renewables, and still less often of the huge profits that they make, and of the huge profits that they made in the days of cheap oil and gas, none of which have ever been repaid to customers. After all, the profits of the big six energy companies have gone up almost a third since 2008, and payouts to shareholders increased across the board, up an incredible sixfold since 1999 in the case of Centrica, which owns British Gas.

I support renewable energy, but the delivery of clean energy has not matched the price paid by the Government. It is time that we saw a return for our taxpayers’ money. The production—or lack of it—of clean energy is being used to rip off the British people, thus adding to the costs of those who can least afford them. I can compare the scale on which private energy companies have managed to privatise profits but nationalise losses only with the recent bank crisis. The energy customer in the UK—if we were totally honest, we could just call them the British taxpayer, because they are one and the same—is picking up the tab for the excesses, irresponsibility, recklessness and lack of long-term vision of the big six energy companies. Those companies—the energy barons—have managed to turn us into their 21st century serfs. The cheek of some of them knows no bounds. As I pointed out in June, ScottishPower is milking the British consumer: having recently increased energy bills in this

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country to record levels, it lent £800 million to its foreign sister company, which is based in the US, to keep US energy prices down. That money could have been invested in the UK, or it could have helped to keep UK prices down.

That was not even the first time that that happened. Back in 2008, ScottishPower lent £750 million directly to its Spanish parent, Iberdrola. One can assume only that that was to the benefit of Spanish energy customers. That is not the truly sickening aspect of this problem. This is the first year since 1990 when Iberdrola’s US gas and electricity supply companies have raised their customers’ bills. They have seen increases of 2% and 8%, but the British customer is getting hit by near-20% increases this year, and has been hit by 40% increases since 2007. That same supplier is lending money to the American company.

I believe that that is why the energy companies do not want to be fully transparent. Although extra wholesale market costs increase prices, with full transparency we might discover that market costs are not increasing prices to the extent that the price hikes would suggest. According to Bloomberg, the wholesale price for gas in autumn 2008 went above 70p per therm, compared with 59p per therm today. That shows that wholesale gas prices have actually dropped 15%. Similarly, prices in the wholesale electricity market reached £120 per MWh in autumn 2008; today, they are £51.20 per MWh—less than half the price back then.

This is not a case of energy companies being backed into a corner by market forces; it is an act of collective incompetence and ineptitude, leading to a cartel of companies backing consumers into a corner by raising prices in tandem. I therefore suggest that we break up the big six’s monopoly and allow other providers to enter the energy market. I would like to see a major co-operative energy supplier and/or a big supermarket chain, such as Tesco, giving the big six some competition.

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree not only that it would be useful if other players entered the market, but that it is important that people can understand the various tariffs? Many people on the lowest incomes find it extremely difficult to work out what is best for them. The energy companies could do more. I hope that new players would operate differently.

John Robertson: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and believe me, if I had more time I would go into it. I certainly did so in the Energy and Climate Change Committee, when we talked about tariffs and the fact that there are more than 400 of them. It is a disgrace. How is anyone supposed to understand them all?

It is odd that in 2011, I, a Labour MP, am calling upon a Tory Government to create greater competition in the marketplace, but with more companies and greater competition, I believe that costs would fall, employment would be maintained or increased and the same profits would lead to greater efficiency in the old and new companies. If we do nothing, however, just like the big banks, which were too big to fail, so too, owing to the cartel-like nature of our energy market, will these huge companies feel that there is no sanction for reckless price rises, and only disaster and a big bill will await the taxpayer. I strongly suspect that the true reason for the

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price rises is the gross failure of the companies to stockpile their energy reserves to hedge adequately against future price rises. Their error is our loss. There might be numerous reasons for the current situation, including ineptitude, but although that is likely, I feel that the answer lies more in the fact that neither the Government nor Ofgem have given them any incentive.

I realise that it is not all the energy companies’ fault. I believe that the regulator, Ofgem, has not helped matters by being idle. I recently publicised the £200,000-a-year salary of Lord Mogg, its chairman. I hope that the Government, who claim to want to crack down on quangos, will have an urgent word with that gentleman, who is paid more than the Prime Minister for a three-day week. He is on footballer-like wages and needs to be reminded to justify his salary. His organisation should be acting to protect hard-pressed British consumers, who on his watch are not getting a fair deal.

I know that I have quoted many facts and figures—I hope that I have not bored too many people, including the Minister—but they are not nameless and faceless to me; they represent individuals whom I have known for many years, not just as their MP, but as their neighbour and friend. That is why I have such passion for this issue. In the nature of cross-party good will, I have a few questions that I would be grateful if the Minister answered.

What does the Minister believe can be done to encourage uptake of means-tested benefits among those in our elderly population who can rightly claim them? Will he consider enforcing transparency upon the big six energy companies or asking the Competition Commission to hold an inquiry into the energy market? What does the Minister think of my suggestion of breaking up the energy companies to stop them acting like a cartel and to allow other providers into the market? What does he believe can be done to tackle fuel poverty, and what measures does he propose to alleviate its harshness this winter? What plans are in place to increase awareness among pensioners and others of the help provided this winter? Would he be interested in a cross-party energy summit, held in Westminster, bringing together energy companies and politicians? Will he ask the Chancellor to revisit the winter fuel allowance and consolidate the £100 reduction?

I thank the many groups, non-governmental organisations and colleagues who have contacted me with help and advice. To mention them all would have taken hours. Let us have the debate we need. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

7.24 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson) on his success in securing an Adjournment debate, particularly on the important subject of fuel poverty. He spoke at length and with great passion. Unfortunately, he has left me about nine minutes to respond to the many important points that he raised. I shall have to make a slightly shorter speech than I had intended, but if I do not cover all the salient points, I will write to the hon. Gentleman after the debate.

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At a time when fuel bills are rising and we are approaching the cold months of the year, it is right to start by reaffirming the coalition’s absolute commitment to helping those households in or at risk of fuel poverty. We recognise the need to help more of the most vulnerable keep their homes warm at an affordable cost. However, the state of fuel poverty in this country, which is totally unacceptable, has not occurred overnight. Fuel poverty has been rising year on year for much of the past decade, during which the hon. Gentleman’s party was in government. Despite legislation designed to reverse the trend, between 2005 and 2009 the number of fuel-poor households across the UK more than doubled from 2.5 million to 5.5 million.

In England, we have seen the number rise from 1.2 million in 2004 to 4 million in 2009 and, of these, 3.2 million were vulnerable, so the elderly, families with young children and the long-term sick and disabled are among those most affected by fuel poverty. Of Scotland’s 2.3 million households, in 2009 there were 770,000 households in fuel poverty, compared to 543,000 in 2005. This means that, as the hon. Gentleman said, a third of households in Scotland were in fuel poverty in 2009. In Glasgow city, which encompasses his constituency, there were 69,000 households in fuel poverty in 2009.

If we are to reverse this trend and the iniquitous and ever-increasing number of those in fuel poverty, it is clear that something big has to change. I do not doubt that the previous Government were well intentioned and had hoped to be more effective than they were, but the numbers speak for themselves. The attempts of the previous Administration were singularly unsuccessful for a number of reasons, some of which were within their control and some not. We need completely to rethink, redesign and re-engineer our policies to meet the challenge of turning around this juggernaut.

Before leaping forward with new answers, we must first make sure that we are asking ourselves the right questions. That is why we invited Professor John Hills to undertake an independent review of the fuel poverty target and definition. He has been asked to look at fuel poverty from first principles—what causes it, its effects and how best to measure it. The review is looking to ensure that in these difficult times available resources are focused where they will be most effective in tackling fuel poverty, targeting support to those who need it the most. As I said, this is an independent review so I cannot predict what will be said, but I am aware that Professor Hills is engaging with a broad range of stakeholders and we look forward to receiving his interim findings this autumn.

In the meantime, the coalition Government need to act. We have introduced the warm home discount, a scheme that spans Great Britain. This is the first year of the scheme and we will assist around 2 million households. The majority of these will be low-income pensioner households in receipt of pension credit guarantee credit only. We expect to find more than 600,000 of them and provide them with a £120 rebate on their bill. Most of these will receive a rebate without having to claim, as a result of the Department for Work and Pensions and the energy suppliers sharing their data to help to find these customers. The rebate will be a major benefit to these vulnerable people who may struggle to claim. This is part of the answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question about how we start identifying such people and encouraging

14 Sep 2011 : Column 1153

them to take up the benefits to which they are entitled. The discount will increase across the four years of the scheme, rising to £140 by the fourth year. To ensure that those off the gas grid can also benefit from the scheme, the discount will be applied to household electricity bills. Other groups, such as low-income families and those with long-term illnesses or disabilities, may also receive the discount.

Tackling fuel poverty will be a huge challenge. A key part of the solution is undoubtedly to address the thermal efficiency of our housing stock. Britain has some of the oldest building stock in Europe. As consumers, we pay a high price for inefficient, leaky buildings. It is widely known that it costs more on average to heat a home in southern England than it does to heat a home in Norway. That is obviously not because it is colder here, but because our buildings are significantly leakier and draughtier. Both the carbon emissions reduction target and Warm Front continue, installing measures in the homes of some of those most at risk from cold. However, the coalition has extended the CERT programme to 2012, which will bridge the gap before the introduction of the real game changer in autumn 2012, the green deal.

Warm Front has helped more than 2.2 million households in England with a range of heating measures. However, we recognised early on that Warm Front was a totally inadequate response to the scale of fuel poverty. It has helped hundreds of thousands of people when the challenge is to help millions. If we had to rely on Warm Front alone, at the previous high rate of spending under the last Labour Government it would take more than 80 years to get close to achieving our aim. The Government’s green deal, which we debated this afternoon, will be the flagship programme for addressing energy efficiency. We hope that it will be the game changer that finally deploys resources from the private sector to achieve the ambitious scale of change and investment that we need.

The domestic green deal is an opportunity for householders to improve the energy efficiency of their homes and will come at no up-front cost. It will help to protect people against price rises through greater energy efficiency, saving them money now, but also protecting

14 Sep 2011 : Column 1154

them against future rises. In developing the green deal and the energy company obligation—the subsidy that will target hard-to-heat homes and the fuel-poor—we are removing the barriers to take-up, raising awareness and showcasing the benefits to make energy efficiency a no-brainer. We are also working closely with the devolved Administrations, particularly in Scotland, to ensure that the green deal can be rolled out right across the country.

The hon. Gentleman spoke at length about the big six. Let me remind him that after privatisation in the early 1990s there were dozens of energy companies. I agree with him that the market was surely much healthier then. I have great sympathy for his wish to see far greater competition in the energy sector, although the consolidation of the energy companies into the mighty big six occurred primarily at the end of the ’90s, under the last Labour Government. However, we will not overcome the problem by simply squeezing or over-regulating them evermore. Regulation is important, but we must be careful not to create new barriers to entry. Like him, I want to see new players entering the market and more disruptive technologies. We want to see a more decentralised energy system challenging the monopoly of the old-style, old-fashioned provider. We want to see more energy service companies that make their money not from selling energy, but from helping people to save energy by using less to keep their houses warm.

The Government are taking a range of measures, including our exciting proposals for electricity market reform, to create new incentives to bring new players into the market, because ultimately it is competition—new entrants, new players, new investment—that will create the choice and best value for consumers that the hon. Gentleman and I both want. Indeed, he is absolutely right about that and I am glad that we have found that point of agreement. I am also glad that we have had this opportunity to debate the issue. He is absolutely right—

7.34 pm

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).

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Deferred Division

Access to a Lawyer

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 11497/11 and Addenda 1 and 2 relating to the Draft Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the right of access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings and on the right to communicate upon arrest; and supports the Government’s recommendation not to opt into the Directive in accordance with Protocol (No.21) on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice to the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

The House divided:

Ayes 303, Noes 192.

Division No. 350]


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Brine, Mr Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, Paul

Burt, Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Cameron, rh Mr David

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clegg, rh Mr Nick

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mr Mark

Flynn, Paul

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Mr Roger

Garnier, Mr Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Damian

Greening, Justine

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Hermon, Lady

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kelly, Chris

Kennedy, rh Mr Charles

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lopresti, Jack

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McCrea, Dr William

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

Mensch, Louise

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Mr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Paice, rh Mr James

Paisley, Ian

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Bob

Rutley, David

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, David

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Sir Robert

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Rory

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wilson, Sammy

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim


Abrahams, Debbie

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barker, Gregory

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Bell, Sir Stuart

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Chapman, Mrs Jenny

Clark, Katy

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Mr Wayne

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Eagle, Maria

Efford, Clive

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Heyes, David

Hilling, Julie

Hood, Mr Jim

Hosie, Stewart

Hunt, Tristram

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Johnson, rh Alan

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Susan Elan

Joyce, Eric

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lloyd, Tony

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Lucas, Caroline

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

MacShane, rh Mr Denis

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Shabana

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Jim

McKechin, Ann

McKinnell, Catherine

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miller, Andrew

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

O'Donnell, Fiona

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stringer, Graham

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Weir, Mr Mike

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Woodcock, John

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Question accordingly agreed to


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