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Thousands of people in my constituency of Gedling and millions across the country will be disappointed by that response from the Minister. Consumer Focus has said that, on average, energy bills will go up by £200 a year, which means that this winter many people —pensioners and families—will be worried about switching on gas and electricity. Has the Minister met the energy companies to discuss that, and will she specifically outline some measures that she and her Government intend to take so that people are not afraid to switch on the heating this winter?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue because it is important. The challenge that we all face is to make sure that energy bills are affordable not just this winter—the point that he makes—but in winters in 10 and 20 years’ time. The problem that we have as a country is our dependency on fossil fuels. In the long term, we need to get ourselves off that dependency so that we are not so blown about by the international winds that see commodity prices go up and down. In the short term, we are taking steps to support the most vulnerable through the Warm Homes discount. Next year, we will introduce the green deal to help energy efficiency. The hon. Gentleman asks whether we have meetings with energy companies, and of course we do every day. I am sure that he will also—
Order. Progress is very slow, and it needs to get faster.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The action that we took, which was part of a £1.9 billion package to support motorists, means that fuel duty was 6p lower than it otherwise would have been under the previous Government’s proposals.
The Minister will know that the rise of several hundred pounds in energy costs will hit businesses hard, and that on top of VAT and price and pay freezes it will particularly hit consumers and pensioners. What is her assessment of the level of that price rise? How many meetings has she had with energy companies about the price of energy? What does she intend to do about the price of energy other than freezing the level of winter fuel payments for pensioners?
I think I have answered those questions already; and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should speak to his Back Benchers before they ask his question before he does. I know that it is his wedding anniversary today, and I hope that I do not upset him too much before he has dinner with his wife tonight. I can again assure him that we are absolutely committed to making sure that the Warm Homes discount scheme will support the most vulnerable people in our country so that they can afford to heat their homes.